Sixteen years ago, the state government and the federal government each took an important step to rid this land of an annoyance that all righteous people loathe: unsolicited calls from telemarketers.
That was 2003, the year the state Legislature passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 573, known as the Consumer No-Call Act.
Under that law, people who don’t want calls from telemarketers could call a toll-free number or go to a website and automatically get on the Do Not Call Registry. Some Republicans fought the legislation, which they called “anti-business,” but just a few months later, Republican President George W. Bush, at a Rose Garden ceremony, officially launched the federal Do Not Call Registry.
“When Americans are sitting down for dinner, or a parent is reading to his or her child, the last thing they need is a call from a stranger with a sales pitch,” Bush said at that historic turning point.
Some of you might be too young to remember, but in those sad days before the registry, anyone could just call anyone at anytime to sell you whatever they wanted. They always seemed to call at the most inconvenient time, and for every one of these mutants you cussed out, it always seemed that six more would call you the next day.
But in 2003 the angels sang. The long national nightmare was over. Those terrible times were gone for good, never to return …
Excuse me, my cellphone is ringing.
“The financial rewards of bothering people on the telephone are clearly greater than the risks,” said a January 2018 article in the Washington Post — which ran under the headline “How robocallers outwitted the government and completely wrecked the Do Not Call list.”
The article quoted Janice Kopec, the Federal Trade Commission’s point person on robocalls. “We continue to bring cases and shut down as many folks as we can,” she said. “What we recognized, though, was we shut down an operation and another one springs up behind it almost instantaneously.”
The Post story said that 230 million numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry. “And yet the FTC receives 19,000 complaints every day from list members who have, in fact, been called,” the article said.
Actually I see a connection between this and the familiar anti-gun-control slogan: When unwanted sales calls are outlawed, only outlaws will make unwanted calls.
Indeed, while most legit, law-abiding businesses tend to respect the do-not-call list, the scamsters out there, using automated robocalls, have flourished. Thus we’re all still likely to receive never-ending calls from chirpy androids hawking luxury vacations for a low, low fee; pretending to be Internal Revenue Service agents threatening to arrest you if you don’t pay some supposed tax bill; or politicians asking you to vote for them.
(Oops, that last one never has been illegal. Back in 2003, the Legislature made sure to exempt political solicitations from any do-not-call prohibitions. They also exempted “cold-call” real estate pitches or calls from companies you’ve done business with in the past.)
Just last week, the Federal Communications Commission took action trying to stem the tide of unwanted phone solicitations. The commission voted unanimously to authorized phone companies to automatically identify and block unwanted robocalls.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called unwanted robocalls “the scourge of civilization.”
But robo-scamsters might still find a way to get through, a Thursday story in Bloomberg said. “Calls originating from overseas could present a technical challenge. Phone companies won’t be required to take advantage of the call-blocking systems that the FCC is encouraging, and consumers could face fees for using them,” the business publication said. And who knows what kind of technology is just around the corner to freely allow the robocallers to rip you off and drive you nuts.
And, yes, the FCC’s new policy won’t do anything to stop the rampaging flood of political robocalls that should be in full swing next spring before the June primary election. Candidates and political organizations still are exempt from any of these rules.
God bless America.