The other day, my cell phone's caller ID lit up with an incoming call from Egypt. Yes, Egypt! Curiosity got the best of me, and I answered the unknown number. It was a robocall, claiming to be a survey for Alabama something or other, I don't remember -- but why was it coming from Egypt? I may never know. Surveys are allowed within the parameters of the "do not call" legislation, which was passed and put into effect in 2003.
Still, when it was introduced, consumers rejoiced and legitimate telemarketing companies complained loudly. They'd no longer be able to call us up during dinner trying to sell us a subscription, a credit card, whatever. The rule wasn't perfect -- political calls could still go through, for example. After all, for a law to get the support of politicians, you knew they'd exempt themselves.
But people signed up, and the law generally worked. For several years, we got almost no telemarketing calls. And when we did, it was someone who claimed we had a previous business relationship with them (another loophole); so at least they were pretending to abide by the law. Trying to make us believe that it was, at worst, a mistake.
Since 2009, most of us have experienced dramatic increases in the number of telemarketing calls we receive. Most of the calls are scams, such as the almost daily robocalls from "Credit Card Services." The Federal Trade Commission, which manages the Do Not Call List, says you should hang up on a robocall immediately and "don't interact in any way." Don't push buttons, don't ask to speak to a live operator, don't ask to be taken off their list.
The FTC says technology has made it difficult to track down these spam callers. Fake phone numbers are used, to help them hide from law enforcement. They're trying, in others words, but it's hard to track down and punish people using fake numbers and based in another country. Meanwhile, technology also exist to block robocalls, but phone companies have mostly been resistant.
Today, the majority of the calls to my cell phone are telemarketing calls. And they're not all robocalls. Lately, I've had supposedly legitimate businesses calling my phone and identifying themselves. A few days ago, it was a condo on one of our Gulf Coast beaches. Yesterday, it was a local roofer wanting to give me a free estimate. I could report them to the "do not call" registry, like I used to , but what's the point? When telemarketers are calling my cell phone on a daily basis, there's little to do except use my iPhone's call blocking feature (at least the phones themselves can help) and move on -- until I get another call.
The news isn't all bad. AT&T has finally started offering an app called Call Protect that I'm willing to try and hope will help. Check to see if your provider has something, as well. You never know.
Now, if you want to stop political robocalls, that's something you may have to do at the state level. I'd read an article awhile back at al.com explaining how cheaply the state government will sell our information -- 1 cent per voter. It's state law, and I haven't seen anything showing that the state legislature has dealt with this. (Again, why would they? They're politicians and want your info to call you). The website also cites a Fox News story saying that 47 states sell or flat out give away voter info to anyone who wants it. So do NOT give your phone number when you register to vote. It's optional in Alabama. And if you must give your number, like at a tag office, do you have a house phone that you keep silent and never answer? That's our go-to number for things like this, and it's helped us to dramatically decrease the number of incoming political robocalls -- at least to our cell phones.
Any great ideas? Please share.