Press-Republican

September 30, 2012

Editorial: Blocking those annoying calls

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Press-Republican

---- — No one likes to pick up the phone and hear a recorded message. And the problem sometimes goes beyond annoyance and into the realm of scam.

Despite the establishment of the National Do Not Call registry in 2003, the number of telemarketing calls continues to increase. More than 200,000 complaints were filed with the Federal Trade Commission in April 2012 compared to 65,000 in October 2010.

A good share of the disturbance is created through the use of robocalls, which is when machines automatically dial telephone numbers and play pre-recorded messages. Some of the messages are scams, with technology even able to fake a caller I.D. so it looks like it is coming from a legitimate agency.

Federal Do Not Call regulations prohibit companies from using automated dialing machines to deliver marketing messages unless they get written permission from the recipient. If the intent is fraud, the practice is illegal under the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009.

But the problem not only persists but is growing as scammers make more use of the technology. U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer thinks that is because the punishments aren’t harsh enough. If it will help curb these frustrating and potentially dangerous calls, we support his tougher legislation.

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the penalty for a company willfully using an automated dialing machine, pre-recorded telemarketing call or robocall for commercial purpose without written consent of the consumer is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

Schumer (D-NY) wants to see it changed to a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 fines per call. We are guessing that anyone who has been ripped off through this method — and others who are just annoyed — would think that is a more appropriate penalty.

Unfortunately, even if tougher regulations were to curb the illegal robocalls, some automated calls would still be allowed.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Do-Not-Call Registry includes exemptions, and those would continue in Schumer’s legislation. Allowed are political advertisements (detested by many) and calls from non-profit agencies and people doing phone surveys. Bill collectors can still call. And you can be contacted by companies with whom you have had an established business relationship.  

The Do Not Call Registry is for residential phones and cellphones. More than 209 million numbers are logged in the registry, and it’s easy to do. Either go to www.donotcall.gov and follow the instructions to register your numbers by email or call 1-888-382-1222. The registration does not expire.

The registry can help you block some of the calls bothering you at home. If the legislation proposed by Schumer is passed, more illegal robocalls could be shut down.