Ever since the Federal Trade Commission made it illegal for companies to try to sell you something via robocall, it seems like there have been more calls than ever. And it's not just a feeling. The FTC says it's true. Those obnoxious, pre-recorded sales calls are on the rise. Ironically, in September 2009, the FTC ruled that companies could only sell via robocall if they had your written permission to call you. And who would give it?
So why would this strong rule hurt rather than help? My theory is that the new rule drove semi- legitimate companies out and now scam companies are having a heyday. They hawk interest rate reduction plans and bogus car warranties. They are probably auto-dialing you from overseas where U.S. law enforcement can't easily touch them. Technology makes it easy for them to dial every combination of numbers so that they'll stumble upon you even if you've got an unlisted number on the do not call list.
The government is strategizing anew about how to solve this problem. "The FTC hears from American consumers every day about illegal robocalls and how intrusive they are," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "We're ratcheting up our efforts to stop this invasion of consumers' privacy." It's not just about privacy. It's about money. I don't know about you, but most of the robocalls I get are on my cell phone, so those calls cost me minutes.
That's why the Federal Trade Commission is suggesting new strategies for consumers fed up with robocalls.
Here's the agency's 3-pronged plan:
1. Don't Participate in the Phone Tree.
Hang up rather than following the robocalls phone tree instructions. You'd think you would want to speak to a live operator and give them the business about bugging you. The FTC says don't do it. By pressing "0" – or any other digit-- to speak to an operator you confirm for the robotic dialing software that yours is a real number with a warm body on the other end. You will probably get even more robocalls if you do this.
2. Block the Number Only if it's Free.
Blocking the number the robocall came from probably won't help because these illegal telemarketers know how to manipulate phone technology to make it look like they're calling from a different number than they really are. Plus, they change numbers –or fake numbers—often. So if you can block the number for free, just by changing your settings, go for it. But if your carrier is going to charge you for the service, don't bother. It probably won't help.
3. Report the Robocall.
The Federal Trade Commission chooses which cases it pursues partly based on the number of complaints it has received about them. The more the better. Be a part of the process. The FTC has fined companies a total of $41 million in 85 robocall cases. It acts when people complain. You are the first line of law enforcement. Go to www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222. By the way, if you're annoyed by a robocall from a politician or pollster, stand down. Guess who makes the laws? Those automated calls are still legal.