Kennedy: Number of robocalls continues to grow

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The calls have been coming regularly to my cellphone since just before Thanksgiving, usually one in the morning, another in the afternoon and often a third in the early evening.

Since my cell is my “work” phone, and the company that employs me offers the number to clients who may need my help, calls from far-flung corners of the country are not unusual.

So the first time the Utah number rang, I answered – and heard a chipper fellow, a “personal injury specialist,” who wanted to help me get the money I deserved if I had ever been in an auto accident.

It was a robocall, of course, one of the thousands of recorded messages launched every day that promise to fix our credit, renew a warranty, or get us in on a timeshare.

An estimated 48 billion robocalls were made last year, according to YouMail, a company that tracks the calls and offers blocking services for mobile phones. Its projections for 2019 range from 60 billion to 75 billion – about double the volume seen in 2017.
YouMail’s estimates, derived from calls made to users of its services, are much higher than the figures released by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, which reflect complaints lodged with the national Do Not
Call Registry, which they jointly manage.

The agencies reported that in fiscal 2019, which ended Sept. 30, consumers filed 5.4 million Do Not Call complaints, nearly three-quarter of which were about a robocall.

While the registry’s aim has been to reduce the volume of calls from reputable companies by providing names and numbers to be avoided, the FCC notes dryly that “most robocalls today are not from law-abiding firms.”

That’s for sure. While I’ve been on the Do Not Call Registry for several years, I’ve grown weary of the robocalls that still come to my home landline. Most days, I don’t pick up the phone when it rings but let the answering machine handle the call.

Robocalls to my cell are harder to distinguish – unless they come as frequently as the ones I get from Utah.

I could sign up for a third-party blocking service, or opt in to the free or paid tools now offered by wireless providers. But there’s the rub: I have to take action.

Or, as two FCC executives wrote recently on the agency’s blog: “Inertia is an obstacle for many consumers who would otherwise take part in a call-blocking program.”

The two noted the financial costs to consumers and phone companies from robocalls as they pointed to the FCC’s move in June to clarify that carriers could, by law, keep the unwanted calls from going through.

And having call-blocking as the default service setting might, in the end, make robocall campaigns “much less economical to inflict on the consumer,” they wrote.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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