Fred Grimm

How do-not-call registry violators turned me into a wild-eyed lunatic

Americans suffered 18.97 billion unsolicited robocalls from May 2015 to May 2016.
Americans suffered 18.97 billion unsolicited robocalls from May 2015 to May 2016.

Perhaps I overreacted.

“I’m going to hunt you down,” I muttered into my phone. “I’ll find you, you [expletive deleted]. Gouge out your eyes. Burn your house down.”

Can’t help myself. I’ve been driven mad. Unwanted telephone solicitations interrupt my life four, five, six times an evening. They arrive with ever more frequency: callers offering to suck the mold out of my air conditioning ducts, clean my (nonexistent) carpets, refinance my house, install a home security system.

No matter that my home telephone number has been on both the federal and state do-not-call lists for years. They call and call with the persistence of swarming insects.

Lately, the unwelcome solicitations deny me even the tiny revenge of an obscene retort or an empty threat. Telemarketers are at the cutting edge of automation, replacing shameless, unfeeling human callers with shameless, unfeeling machines. YouMail’s National Robocall Index reported that robots made a record 2.49 billion calls to American homes in May, reeling off 6.3 percent more recorded messages than in April. That comes to 930 calls a second and brought the number of unsolicited, unwanted, hated robocalls to 18.97 billion in the previous 12 months. Or 80 robocalls for every adult in the U.S.

Which means that I’m dealing with my 80 calls plus a considerable number of those that ought to be suffered by those damn millennials who spurn landlines.

It’s like 1999 all over again.

Sixteen years ago, Florida enacted a do-not-call registry. The feds started their own list in 2003. For a few years, anyway, our evenings were our own, except for robocalls from politicians, who exempted themselves from the no-call restrictions. Well, of course they would.

But government enforcers can’t keep up with ever-changing technology that allows violators to hide the the origins of the calls or cause fake identifications to pop up on caller IDs. Or that route calls through distant servers and bounce them across continents, out of the reach of state and federal authorities.

By 2014, violations of the do-not-call list had moved to the top of the complaints received by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Nationally, the Federal Trade Commission figures it will receive more than five million complaints about do-not-call violations in the current fiscal year, up from 3.57 million last year. The FTC fines violators willy-nilly, but to not much effect. The Consumers Union estimates that only about 10 percent of the $1.2 billion in fines ordered by the FTC have been collected. It’s tough collecting fines when violators are hunkered down in Asia or Eastern Europe.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Jackie Speier of California have offered up a legislative solution, the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act, a clunky name that shrinks down into a catchy acronym, the ROBOCOP Act. The bill would require telecommunication providers to include robocall blocking technology at no cost to their customers.

It won’t pass of course. Not unless consumers mount their own interrupt-a-Congress-member’s-evening-meal robocall campaign.