Eradicating Robocalls Once and For All

Say, here’s an idea for something Congress can do while they anxiously await release of the Mueller report. How about doing something to directly – and positively – help countless millions of Americans every single day?

Stop all those %&*#@!* robocalls that plague us once and for all! No one on the planet welcomes a robocall. No one. We dutifully sign up for the National ‘Do Not Call” Registry but they still come, billions of times every month. They are the daily bane of our already harried existence.

Yes. Please. Now.

There is a renewed move in the U.S. Senate to crack down on companies that launch these maddening and mostly illegal intrusions but, frankly, I fear it is way too little, way too late. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have a bill that they say could help cut down these calls. We’ve heard this before from other Senators, like Chuck Schumer, who’s bill to deal with the problem died in committee in 2016. Color me skeptical of this latest attempt.

The inaptly named Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act carries only civil consequences and no criminal penalties for those who chronically disturb our peace and scam our citizens with these calls. Instead, the legislation calls for the Federal Communications Commission to increase fines to up to $10,000 per call and it allows the FCC to go after intentional violators for up to three years instead of the current one-year window.

The proposal also requires adoption of authentication technologies so consumers can have more confidence that incoming calls and texts are from legitimate numbers. And, it brings together the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission the Departments of Justice, Commerce, State and other federal agencies, along with state attorneys general so they can devise ideas on how to deter and prosecute robocall scammers. Shouldn’t they already have been doing that? Federal laws against unwanted calls have been on the books since 1991!

The FCC Regulates Phone Companies But Has No Power to Prosecute

This TRACED Act seems to be a big yawn. Upping the fines for robocallers will be meaningless. The Wall Street Journal reports that since 2015 the FCC has ordered bad actors to pay more than $208 million. Guess how much has been collected? Just $6790. Pathetic. To be fair, the FCC doesn’t have the authority it needs to collect from all the violators, so it passes cases to the DOJ where they, apparently, fall into a black hole.

I can’t understand why anyone would fall for a robocall scam, but they do. And the unscrupulous make so much money from the racket that paying fines is just part of the cost of doing business. Smaller players simply declare bankruptcy and move on, perhaps to start another robocall group.

To borrow a phrase from actor Peter Finch in the movie, Network, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take this anymore!” The other day I counted that of the twelve calls I got on my cell phone 8 of them were pre-taped messages trying to get money from me. This even thought I long ago joined that toothless “Do Not Call” registry.

We Should All Be ‘Mad As Hell!” Just Like Finch

I say it is time to get tough with these people. How about attaching criminal penalties to this pending Senate bill? If the culprit running the company is a repeat offender make the punishment include actual prison time. Don’t give up completely on the fines, but don’t accept cash. Instead seize the personal property of the boss – homes, vehicles, or business buildings – to satisfy any monetary penalty. Nefarious activity is only stopped when the person at the top has to pay a personal price rather than just write a check.

Look, there are good and legal uses for robocalling technology. Calls alerting people to an emergency situation, upcoming appointments, a delayed school opening or a pharmacy refill for example. Also legal now are those annoying calls from politicians looking for votes – which I would gladly do without.

(Wait a minute. Am I’m on to something here? Maybe our elected official’s lack of definitive action to shut down robocallers stems from the fear of disrupting their own campaign tactics? Hmmm.)

There were an estimated 26.3 billion robocalls last year, and likely billions more will come this year. Something drastic has to happen! Congress has to find the guts to stamp out this menace.

Some phone companies have introduced their own call filtering apps. The premium versions will cost you a recurring monthly fee (usually $2.99) but the app’s reliability in blocking of spam calls is reported to sometimes be “spotty.” There are several other independent apps out there too. But is it fair that we must to take steps to stop the illegal actions of others?

We could all run around trying to find ways to block these miserable calls, or Congress could do its job and protect us from them. Seems like a no-brainer to me.



  1. Diane Dimond on April 8, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Reader Judy Crane writes:

    Hello Diane Dimond —

    Thank you for your column on robocalls Saturday. The calls make me almost too mad to write about.

    Here’s my experience over one week.

    Last Monday I got 7 calls from caller ID that was my own name and number from 8:30 to 12:30. Some of those woke me up as I had gone to bed late and gotten up early and was trying to take a nap.

    The next day I got 3 unsolicited calls.

    Another day last week the phone woke me up 3 times.

    This morning, Monday, same thing. I was trying to sleep when the phone woke me up.

    Something should be done. I couldn’t go to someone’s house, open their door, and ring a bell, and these sleazy people shouldn’t be allowed to ring my number unless they have a legitimate reason. I wonder what kind of people are responding to these calls.

    I’ve written to our senators, and to Dear Abby. I wish she would mention something in her column since she reaches a lot of readers.

    Anyway, I appreciated your column Saturday. In the least robocalls should be outlawed except for schools and doctors’ offices, etc.

    Thank you.


  2. Diane Dimond on April 8, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    Reader Dara Bradley writes:

    Please !!!!!

  3. Diane Dimond on April 8, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Reader Jonathan Swartz writes:

    I agree! I am getting too many robocalls and I only pick up the phone if it’s someone I know.

  4. Diane Dimond on April 8, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Reader Donald Shaffer writes:

    Great idea but with spoofing and foreign-based calling infrastructure it is going to be a long-term campaign.

  5. Diane Dimond on April 8, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Reader Lee Gordon writes:

    If congress were to shift the responsibility to the phone carriers, making them liable for the fines for violations, and gave them a deadline of June 30, robocalls would practically disappear on July 1. And they should absolutely not be allowed to profit from the nuisance they contribute to. Telephone providers charging $2.99 a month — or anything — for call blocking services should be outlawed. This is like a restaurant charging you extra to guarantee you won’t get food poisoning from your meal.

  6. Diane Dimond on April 12, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Reader Connie Terwilliger writes:

    Shame on every voiceover person who records these things! Back when I was a starry eyed youth, I did a bunch of the calls without really realizing what they were (this was back when they were few and far between). I was “so and so” calling about debt relief. I stopped doing them when it dawned on me that it was just another scam that prayed on the desperate – like hard money lenders. A year or so later, I got a call from the feds asking about the client. They were investigating his operation.

  7. Diane Dimond on April 27, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Reader Harold Krieg writes:

    Congress needs to get off their backsides and do this, if they can’t they need to quit.

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