We’ve all received them — those annoying robocalls that feature a recorded voice promising you untold riches by working from home, informing you that you’ve won a free cruise, or the cheerful young woman from “Card Member Services.” “There is no problem with your account,” she reassures you, but she wants you to know about ways to reduce your interest rate.
Of course, you can ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Everyone I know with a personal cellphone follows that practice. But what if you have a business that depends on a cellphone for customers to reach you?
Robocalls are supposed to be illegal if you have registered your number with the national Do Not Call Registry, but of course the people behind the calls pay no attention to that. And the problem is getting worse. YouMail, which collects and analyzes calls as part of its robocall blocking service, told the New York Times that robocalls reached an estimated 3.4 billion in April. That’s billion with a B. And it’s up 900 million for the month over last year’s number.
Fear not, however: Congress is on the case.
I can understand if that news doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence. But Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey have introduced the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, designed to give new tools to regulators.
The legislation would give the Federal Communications Commission more authority to crack down on robocallers, allow phone customers to revoke permission they previously gave to receive calls, ban calls to numbers that have transferred from one customer to another and extend the statute of limitations from one year to four years for prosecuting violators.
I’m not holding my breath waiting for the annoying calls to stop. I’ll continue to ignore numbers I don’t recognize, figuring any real person who wants to reach me will leave a message. When I do slip up and answer one, I end the call immediately and block the number. Of course, the robocallers are good at using multiple numbers, so that’s only marginally effective.
There are other measures one can take — several apps are available that will block calls. I understand there’s even one that will patch telemarketing calls to a robot that responds to speech patterns and keeps the caller engaged as a way of fighting back.
I won’t speculate on the chances that the new legislation will pass, or that it will do any good if it does. But I have a suggestion for lawmakers who really want to make a difference, no legislation needed. They can stop using robocalls themselves at election time.
Robocalls for political purposes are exempt from the Do Not Call Registry (along with charitable organizations seeking donations). But politicians could decide not to use the technique, sparing voters the annoyance of unwanted calls. So could parties, political action committees and other groups.
Again, I’m not holding out much hope that candidates will forgo the convenience of reaching voters by phone. But if a few did so, and publicized that fact, they might get quite a few votes just for doing it.
Reach Editorial Page Editor Gary Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.