Why FTC’s Do Not Call registry doesn’t stop those annoying robo-calls — and how you can stop them!

The short answer: Robo-callers make so much money that they can afford to pay a fine to the FTC.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood of the Washington Post uses the example of one telemarketer to explain why those robo-calls keep calling you.

Virtually all robo-calls, whatever they’re selling, are illegal. But that hasn’t stopped a middle-aged telemarketer named Aaron Michael (or Michael Aaron) Jones, who lives high by spamming people with robo-calls. He lives in a $25,000 a month Spanish Colonial Revival house in a gated community near Laguna Beach, Calif.; has a personal chef; drives a couple of Mercedes; and has a gambling account at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Jones had paid for exclusive access to a computer program capable of blasting out prerecorded phone messages to just about anyone in the country, peddling auto warranties, home security systems and search-engine optimization tools. He works with a revolving cast of co-workers under the auspices of about a dozen corporations, as well as rents the computer program out to other robo-callers.

According to the FTC’s investigation, Jones was “facilitating” roughly a billion robo-calls a year, more than any individual the FTC had ever identified. On Oct. 1, 2015, Jones was called to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to testify under oath.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood writes:

At 9:50 a.m., Jones and his attorney arrived at a fifth-floor FTC conference room, where two of the commission’s lawyers, James Evans and Ian Barlow, would confront him. But a curious thing happened as they began asking questions: Jones didn’t deny much of anything. When Evans tried to pin down the volume of calls he was capable of placing, he answered, “I did a lot,” then punched out an estimate on his phone’s calculator. Jones eventually grew restless and tried to move the interview along: “Obviously, the underlying issue is the calls are illegal. We know that already.Afterward, he returned to California and resumed robo-calling. In January 2017, the FTC sued him. Five months later, a federal judge banned him from telemarketing and hit him with a $2.7 million penalty. He didn’t bother contesting the judgment. […]

Jones, it appears, didn’t really care about getting caught. The same goes for the rest of the robo-calling industry. The financial rewards of bothering people on the telephone are clearly greater than the risks. “We continue to bring cases and shut down as many folks as we can,” says Janice Kopec, the FTC’s point person on robo-calls. “What we recognized, though, was we shut down an operation and another one springs up behind it almost instantaneously.” Hence our modern scourge. In 2015, the call-blocking app YouMail estimated that close to a billion robo-calls were being placed every month. Two years later, that number has leapt to 2.5 billion. At best, these calls annoy. At worst, they defraud. By far, they constitute the top consumer complaint received by the FTC.

In theory, there is a fix: the National Do Not Call Registry, created in 2003. Today, 230 million numbers are on it. The point, obviously, is to not be called. And yet the FTC receives 19,000 complaints every day from list members who have, in fact, been called. There is a battle being waged over the inviolability of our telephone numbers — over the right to not be bothered. On one side there is Mike Jones and his robot army. On the other side, there is the federal government and its list. It is clear who’s winning. But why?

Zuylen-Wood identifies some key players and moments in the history of telemarketing:

  • In 1967, Murray Roman, a public-relations consultant, first invented telemarketing.
  • In 1969, Douglas Samuelson, a Virginia telecom analyst, invented predictive dialing — a technology that allowed department stores, politicians and scammers to dial widely and quickly, while weeding out phone lines that were busy or unresponsive — which exponentially increased telemarketing.

Note: Hmm, Aaron Michael Jones, Murray Roman, Douglas Samuelson. Does anyone see a pattern here?

  • In 1991, Congress created the first Do Not Call registries, which were ineffective because the registries were maintained by telemarketers so that the only way to get on them was to call the companies themselves.
  • In 2003, Congress passed a bill to create a nationwide Do Not Call Registry, administered by the FTC. (The House bill passed 412 to 8, opposed by Ron Paul, Jeff Flake and a handful of other shrink-the-state types.) In three months, 50 million people signed up. Telemarketing groups found to have called any of the registered numbers could be fined up to $11,000 per call. By downloading the list of numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, and then declining to call them, telemarketers largely policed themselves out of existence.
  • By the late 2000s, though, a new threat had emerged: robo-calls, prerecorded phone messages instead of live telemarketers. Legitimate companies began outsourcing illegal robo-calls to third parties. Will Maxson, an assistant director in the FTC’s consumer protection bureau, explains that voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) dialing “allows telemarketers to make lots and lots of calls for less money, from anywhere in the world. It also allows you to set up shop, tear down, move. All you really need to make a lot of calls is a computer and an Internet connection.” Combine that with an automated dialing platform, plus some co-workers, and you’re Aaron Michael Jones.
  • Robo-calls also employ another technology — “spoofing” or faking a telephone number enables robo-callers to call targets from numbers that bore their own area codes, and, simultaneously, throw law enforcement off their scent. (Now you know why so many robo-calls come from phone numbers with your area code!)
  • In 2009, the FTC outlawed almost all robo-calls, exempting those from political organizations, schools and other entities not trying to sell you things. Alas, the ban had no perceptible effect. From 2010 to 2011, the number of annual Do Not Call complaints jumped from 1.6 million to 2.3 million; in 2012, the number rose again by nearly 70%. In 2017, the FTC received a record 7.2 million complaints. The top violations reported were debt-reduction schemes, vacation and timeshare offers, warranties and protection plans, and impostors.

At the root of the FTC’s public relations problem is a misapprehension about how the Do Not Call Registry works:

  • When you add your number to the list, nothing actually happens. No legal muscle or technological wizardry  prevents a solicitor from calling you.
  • All the list does is provide you with vague recourse in the event you are called, by allowing you to complain that someone has called you, by calling a toll-free number or filling out a form on the Do Not Call website.
  • If the number you were called from shows up in enough complaints, the FTC will leap into action and prosecute the offending dialer. Except, it almost certainly won’t.

The main reasons why the FTC’s Do Not Call registry doesn’t and can’t stop robo-calls are:

  1. Robo-callers couldn’t care less because nobody knows who they are or where they’re calling from since they all spoof (fake) their numbers.
  2. More robo-calls are done every year because it’s cheap and easy to blast out automated calls from anywhere in the world.
  3. 1 and 2 make it nearly impossible for the FTC to identify robo-callers, let alone penalize them. At a hearing on robo-calls in October, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was getting so many of them, she’d disconnected her home phone. “The list,” she said, “doesn’t work.”
  4. The FTC doesn’t have the resources to go after robo-callers, with an annual budget of $300 million (the FBI’s is $9 billion) and only 43 employees in the Division of Marketing Practices, which oversees unwanted calls, none of whom work full time on the issue. Ami Dziekan, who works in a different department, is the lone steward of the Do Not Call Registry.
  5. Since the robo-call ban went into effect in 2009, the FTC has brought just 33 cases against robo-callers. In those cases, defendants have been ordered to pay nearly $300 million in relief to victims, and nearly $30 million in civil penalties to the government. But even then, the FTC can’t force perpetrators to pay the fine if they argue they’re broke, which robo-callers often seem to be. So the FTC has only collected on a fraction of those sums: $18 million in relief and less than $1 million in penalties.

This is how I deal with robo-calls:

When a call rings and I don’t recognize the caller ID number, I answer the call but stay silent. If it’s a human calling, the person eventually will say: “Hello? Hello?”. If it’s a robo-call, after a few seconds of my silence, the robo-call simply hangs up.

After weeks of employing the silent method, I’ve noticed that the number of robo-calls has greatly decreased.

Let’s hear from our readers of your methods of dealing with these irritating robo-calls!

See also “Beware of cold calls from Windows Technical Support – It’s a scam”.

UPDATE:

Thanks to reader Roy’s advice, I just signed on to a service called Nomorobo, which blocks robo-calls. The service is free for landline phones, but costs $1.99 a month for mobile phones. I followed the instructions, and successfully enabled robo-calls to be blocked from my landline phone. Click here or go to: https://nomorobo.com/.

~Eowyn

24 responses to “Why FTC’s Do Not Call registry doesn’t stop those annoying robo-calls — and how you can stop them!

  1. Yep, silent treatment works. And if you feel like you can always troll them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was told by a phone technician that if you answer and punch 5, that indicates to the robo call that it has called a fax number and will not call that number back. The other method I use is I simply do not answer the call, if I do not recognize the number. I figure they will leave a message if they really want to get in touch with me.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well, since the FTC is getting no where by assessing fines . . . Perhaps the Congress needs to pass a law that robo calling is illegal, particularly when so many of us have listed our numbers on the Do Not Call list. Then they go after the thugs who have financed and set up the various robo-calling operations with RICO statutes. Although, if the calling is being conducted from foreign lands, that might be problematic, but if the operations are US based . . . then I say go for the jugular vein.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve noticed there often is a delay when ” pick up. I will say hello and no one answers because the called was dialed automatically and it takes a few seconds for the operator/ caller to come on the line. Before that happens there is a loud click or bloop sound. I know right then its a scam and hang up. sometimes when I absolutely know it’s a solicitation, I pick up the phone and immediately hang up it up, never answering.
    I’ve also done the same thing as Pat- say nothing.
    Lately also if it is a live person, I say ” This is an unlisted phone number, and I don’t take phone solicitations, don’t call this number again. Things have quieted down since I have been doing that.

    I would also like to alert people that there is a scam robo call that sounds very much like a human. I discovered this one a year ago and take note they target Catholics and pro- life people.There is a recording, but it is a bad connection and somehow they have scripted this thing so you really think that you are talking to a real person until you start to get a funny feeling half way through.It is very high pressure.

    I believe this was the outfit as I got online after I got the call and found this:
    https://www.liveaction.org/news/new-phone-scam-targets-pro-lifers-with-fake-donation-request/

    https://splinternews.com/is-this-shadowy-network-of-pacs-ripping-off-pro-life-vo-1793861132

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps this is being approached incorrectly. Robocallers are performing a service for someone to sell you something. If robocallers merely see the fines as the cost of doing business shift the expense to someone who cares. All one needs to do, FCC are you listening? Take the call, buy whatever they are selling. Now you have the company or person who actually instigated the robocall. Smack them with a multimillion dollar fine and I’ll bet they won’t find it quite so attractive.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I practice the code of silence too, and then I blocked the contact,

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I too have been frustrated by robocalls. They are made to my land line. I keep my cell number confidential.
    A few years ago I discovered NO MO ROBO. I was disappointed it was only for cell phones. I have been with Spectrum(Time Warner) for several years now with good service. I was discussing my frustration with a serviceman ( I live on 5 acres and have an outdoor bell for calls and we come a running to catch the call). He said they have a fix with their application of NoMoRobo. Now the calls still come in but with only one ring if a robo and the call to displaced. However the robo computer sensing the no mo, might try again sometimes to a second ring. So now we only answer to the 3rd ring or before the voice mail goes off at the 4th ring. It works! So for the price of counting rings we are free of unwanted calls. And the service is free!

    The engineer who invented NoMoRobo should be rewarded with a great life for saving us!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks to reader Roy’s advice, I just signed on to a service called Nomorobo, which blocks robo-calls. The service is free for landline phones, but costs $1.99 a month for mobile phones. I followed the instructions, and successfully enabled robo-calls to be blocked from my landline phone. Go to: https://nomorobo.com/.

    Like

  9. I get a LOT of calls from foreigners,actual people,on my cell number. I’ve discovered that when one calls and I answer,if I interrupt their script early on and say,”How did you get this number?? THIS a secured line. Don’t call this number again.”,they don’t call back.
    I figure on automated calls,if I pick it up and hang it up,I’m just confirming I’m home so they know WHEN to bother me. Everyone who knows me knows to call,hang up and call right back,since telemarketers won’t “call right back”.
    If I answer a call-ANY call,and don’t hear someone talk after the second hello,I hang up.
    I’ve noticed they’re “hijacking” local numbers now. I get a call from a local cell number or landline number,but when I answer,it hangs up. I try to call back thinking it might be in response to an ad I posted,but the person who answers says,”I didn’t make a call,I was out checking the mail.” or “I haven’t used the phone at all today.” Then I tell them what I’ve been seeing,and they appreciate knowing about ot. One guy said he was going to take legal action against the Phone Co. if it happens again. I think it’s another piece of software that enables a telemarketer to make random phone numbers show up on caller ID,so people think it’s someone they might know;eventually they HAVE to use a number that actually belongs to somebody. A form of it’s probably available to people so they can “mask” the number they’re calling from (which should ALSO be illegal.)
    I notice on Craigslist I get a LOT of fake replies,but the weird thing is that probably 90% of the time,except for the “item” I’ve listed,the rest is exactly the same-word for misspelled word. The title to my ad is always in the first line,i.e. “Is your item-(Utility Trailer-$600.00) still available for sale?”
    If I was going to BUY a script for this,I’d at LEAST try to find one that had everything spelled right and used something close to proper word usage.
    I ALSO learned that the scammers don’t understand that when you SPECIFY “CALL-DON’T TEXT” ,you mean DON’T TEXT. Maybe they don’t know the difference-they should go “axe” their neighbor or their friend to ‘splain it to them.
    Rant over.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Take the opportunity to scream the worst possible obscenities at them. It’s very cathartic, and you learn to string together key phrases in new and inventive ways, possibly creating new ones! It’s your phone and you can say whatever you want to whoever you want. If they don’t like it, you can tell them to NOT CALL YOU.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Our phone goes to voicemail after the initial (1st) ring. Family/friends will leave a message and robo callers usually hang up. We give our doctors/pharmacy our cell numbers. I also put my cell number on Do Not Disturb so only my favorites can reach me.

    In case you’re interested…

    How to use Do Not Disturb, the best way to set limits on your iPhone’s notifications

    http://www.businessinsider.com/do-not-disturb-iphone-faq-tips-and-tricks-2016-12

    Liked by 1 person

  12. After 20y with the same phone number here, I was sick of the number of robo calls etc. I was getting every day. Asked the phone co. for help identifying who was calling all the time, particularly the one who spoofed his number to appear to be… ME, calling myself at home.

    They refused any help. Offered to add on to my phone services the “ability to block up to SIX numbers”, which would DOUBLE the cost of my monthly service. Told them I was switching to my cable company’s phone service.

    I think the phone co. gets money for each robo call that gets through. They neither want to identify the abusers nor stop their carnage.

    The day before, the technician came out and explained that although it would only cost me $10 per month over my cable and internet bill (it’s more now since they’ve merged with another company), they would have to drill two more holes into my home’s brick exterior for the service to work (including internet and TV). I decided against that.

    Called the phone company to say the switch was off for the next day; I was staying put. “Surprised you’re able to call us, you should be switched off already”. WHAT? No, I’m CANCELLING the switch. Staying with you, despite the inferior service and excessive charges… I didn’t say that out loud.

    Called cable co., they said they’d cancelled, then later “never placed the request to switch” with the phone company. Called phone company back and relayed that info. C’est la Vie. They turned off my phone the next day regardless. S*holes.

    Bought Tracfone with service for a year on HSN for $100 (100mins, txts, and MBs per month). Then bought extra time when that ran out, then bought second unit. I buy 2 a year now for about $240 total. The one I just activated was only $50 on close-out… it’s still pretty nice: LG, Android 6, works well.

    Best thing overall? VERY few robo calls anymore, and in part, that’s helped by the fact I no longer give my phone numbers out anymore when folks and websites and apps DEMAND them. Got to have a number to get service for a one-time thing? Sure, give them the local weather station’s or time service’s. Or my old phone number with the phone company. Has never caused me grief yet.

    Do the same when they demand EMail — just setup a throw-away mailbox for just such request/demands. I’ve lost too many email box addies (incl. two I’d paid 5y in advance for the domain names for a business) to waste more time, energy, and $ on idiot spammers and those submitting my addies to such spammers to get back at me for whatever, or just for fun (teacher, professor, anyone? Ex-spouse or other?)

    It’s a shame we have to contend with such crap today, especially the elderly and those who know no better and are “taken for rides”. But we do, because as the article shows, it’s so much easier and more profitable now for the shucksters to make an easy million (incl. those who get folks to pay them to ransom their computers/data!)

    Liked by 2 people

  13. NomoRobo (cute name) sounds like a great deal, thanks, I’ll keep that in mind. Also, the history of obnoxious telemarketing-to-robo calls was very interesting, & yes, I see the possible (((connection))). 😉

    Here’s what I’ve done decades ago through the present re landline & cellphone invasive calls:

    In the latter 1980s, I saw a “security expert” on some TV-talk-show (maybe Oprah). He said women who live alone should:

    1_Never put their full names on credit cards & other important documents, mail, etc., but to use your initials only, such as, A.B. Charlie, instead of Alice Betty Charlie.

    2_Never put their full names in the phonebook, but to either use initials (as above) or if they were a widow, to continue to use their husband’s name.

    3_Or better yet, pay MaBell the small monthly fee to have your number UNLISTED in the phonebook & UNLISTED via “Information.”

    After hearing all that, I immediately did #1 & changed all credit cards, etc. to my initials; then I did #2 but kept my name in the phonebook w/initials only; but #2 did not stop the telemarketing calls which, like your history shows, increased over the years, so I began paying MaBell the $1.95/month to make my landline number Unlisted (which not only keeps it out of the phonebook, but even if someone called Information to request your number, it is NOT given out). Doing #3 definitely stopped ALL telemarketing &/or robo calls. Pure heaven. The only unwanted calls came from orgs like “Fraternal Order of Police” seeking donations, etc., & “wrong numbers.”

    If/when you ever get a NEW phone number (landline or cell), you can plan on getting a lot of “wrong numbers” for awhile. There are no “new-never-used-before” numbers left, lol, unless they create a new area-code in your area.

    By the time the internet age hit, I was pretty much turned-off to RINGING phones, period. So I turned off all the ringers on the phones, but I could still tell when a call was coming in by a soft one-time “click” the answering machine would make, at which time I would look over at the ID-caller & I could see if it was a number I recognized. If not, I ignored it. So with #3 above plus All-Ringers-OFF, I finally obtained PEACE & QUIET which I love more than anything. 😉

    Re: CELL PHONES:

    1_When I moved about a decade ago, I bought a non-smart cell-phone (from Walmart) that came with a dirt cheap “pay as you go” TeeeeeeMo plan (I only add funds to it ONCE PER YEAR, none of the every-month payments-hassle. I add anywhere from $10-$50 max once per year to keep the minutes rolling over & there’s thousands of minutes on it which I never use but want to keep, just in case). I got that phone solely to have a number to give out to banks, credit card companies, & any shopping sites online that demand a phone number. (I refuse to give it to google or twitter, though!) That cell STAYS turned OFF & stored in a metal can with a tight lid, so any robos can call it a zillion times if they want, but I’ll never know about it. If I need to call out, I’ll get it out of its tin can but I hardly ever make calls anymore (use email instead).

    2_I did get an iPhone in 2009 & loved it to pieces before I learned how bad they are for your eyes, brain, body (radiation). It’s so old now hardly anything on it works anyway (& I will never buy another!) so I do not use it much; it pretty much stays powered-down/Off & in a tin can like the other one. Its email still works but is slow as molasses but the text messaging still works FINE & is the MAIN reason I keep it (extended family all prefer to communicate via text messaging). It was a phone originally for READING online so I did not want any incoming calls on it, so I did not give out the number & I NEVER set-up the voice mail on it. So any “wrong numbers” &/or robos can call it also a zillion times but it will just ring & ring at their end (ringer stays OFF at my end) & they cannot leave a message on it, lol. (It also has a dirt cheap TeeeeMo plan, but you do have to pay monthly & I’m sick of doing that, so when that phone croaks for good, that will be the end of that).

    If you need a good tin can with tight-lid in which to store your cell phones (so the NSA-CIA spooks cannot turn it ON at THEIR end & to make sure it is not radiating you if it is turned On), these cans work great, perfect size (they have two sizes), & you get a choco treat in the process:

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha at the photo, & to say, I make no financial profit from recommending Pepperidge Farm tin cans for cellphone storage. 😀 I am also not responsible if you gain any weight from buying same (j/k!) as those Pirouette things are TO DIE FOR DELICIOUS, oh my oh my!

      A bit off-topic but re the tin cans/cellphones, etc., my sister was telling me the other day that a friend of hers has a cousin who is an FBI AGENT!!! My sis said she was at her friend’s house when the FBI cousin & a friend of his, another FBI guy, were visiting. My sis says she just sat & listened to all the stories they were telling, including:

      –Neither of the FBI guys own computers & would NEVER use them to PAY BILLS online! They said “they” can tell EXACTLY where you are at all times when using a computer on the internet (which we all basically already know that, IP addresses, etc.) The cousin/FBI guy said, “Writing a check, envelope, stamp, mailbox is the only way to go” (for paying bills).

      –They never use cellphones if they can help it, ditto the reasons above. (I would think they may be required to use them “on the job.”)

      –I told sis that I had read some years ago that all FBI people keep their cellphones in metal boxes or tin cans (which is where I originally got the idea), & did her friend’s FBI cousin mention that? Sis said YES, they use metal cans for storing cellphones if they have to use them.

      –I’ll have to ask her more next time she stops by. I’d love to pick those guys’ brains if I had the chance. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  14. As for the FTC & robo spammers, they need to pick about five of their 43 employees & train them to STORM those spammer places like a SWAT team would do, with black MOSSAD-like military dress & hoods & gear & weapons, scream their brains out at them to get on the floor with hands behind their necks, etc., & basically just scare the bejeebers out of them. Then haul them off to the (wish-they-would-reopen-it) ALCATRAZ & let them stew there until their NON-speedy trial begins 10 years later.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Several years ago I put our number on the Do Not Call List as soon as it was available.
    Then the Windows scan came to being and we were getting 10 calls a day. I finally called the FBI and spoke with an agent there. He told me to keep a log, date, time, company making the call, number and subject. Every so often I entered them om the FBI website, I forget which link, but after that when I would get a call, I told them I was in the DNC list and to stop since I was keeping a log and turning it over to the FBI. They turned themselves wrong side out to hang up. The calls have lessen a lot now, but numbers I don’t recognize, I don’t pick up.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I avoid answering numbers I don’t know but sometimes like to have fun so I ask them for their home number and Credit Card info. CLICK!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. when I did telemarketing I didn’t care if the name appeared on a do not call list. They were getting called regardless…..

    Like

  18. I usually don’t answer a number I don’t know, especially if out of state, and I know nobody in that state. I get a lot of spoof calls with the same prefix that I have – they want you to think it’s a local call so you’ll answer, but winds up being some cruise ship promotion or something like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Something people should realize is that putting your phone number on the Do Not Call list is one of the WORST things you can do.

    Why?

    1) Because it’s not enforced, as the article describes

    2) Many robocallers USE THE DNC LIST AS A SOURCE OF NUMBERS THAT ARE KNOWN TO BE OWNED BY LIVE, BREATHING PEOPLE

    One of the paradoxes of the DNC list is that you’ll get a reduction in telemarketing calls from small, domestic bucket shop operations that DO follow the law, but your frequency of robocalls will go way up.

    Getting call blocking service on your landline, setting up a blocklist on your VOIP line, or getting one of those call blocking apps for your smartphone is the only way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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