On a single day in mid-December, Nancy Duke’s phone rang three times with the same pre-recorded sales pitch. It claimed that the Elgin, Texas, resident could win $3,000 worth of groceries if she’d answer a few questions. “Each time, I hit the 5 key to opt out and got a message that they were removing my number from their list,” she said, “only to get the same call again an hour or two later.”
New Federal Communications Commission rules that give consumers greater protection against robocalls took effect in October 2013, but the onslaught continues. Advances in technology have made it easy and cheap to send thousands of pre-recorded phone calls per minute using autodialers and fake caller IDs that make tracing hard.
How significant is this issue? Through the first 11 months of 2013, American consumers had filed 1,837,558 complaints about robocalls with the FCC.
When Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, recently invited people to share tales of robocall hell, more than 4,000 responded within a week. Among them was Frank Brill Jr., of Newport News, Va., who reported receiving at least 34 such calls from Dec. 4 through Dec. 12, with pitches ranging from medical alert devices to home-security systems.
Listing your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry can ward off unsolicited calls from legitimate telemarketers, but scam artists don’t care about screening out the more than 220 million phone numbers on that list.
Making telemarketing robocalls without the recipient’s written permission has been illegal since 2009, but the new, stricter rules require all robocallers to obtain your consent in writing, by electronic means, or on a voice recording before they can send a robocall or text to your cell phone or home phone. That’s now true even if they have an established business relationship with you. The only such calls considered legal are those that aren’t sales-related, such as prerecorded messages about flight changes and those from politicians or tax-exempt nonprofit organizations.