SIEGEL: Stop calling me

Ending unwanted spam calls shouldn’t be too much to ask

op-phone-rwalsh

If elected officials and the government are really eager to address citizens’ concerns, then they must stop these fraudulent callers. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Despite the rise of texting and the decline of calling, Americans’ phone lines are constantly in use. Robocalls programmed online can send out thousands at a time for only pennies. Consumers get dozens of spam calls a month, each with a robotic or recorded voice talking into the other end. There is ample infrastructure out there to help solve the issue, but neglect from government leaders and deregulation from our regulatory boards have pushed consumers to the edge with spam calls. 

According to the Federal Communications Commission, robocalls and spam calls are among their top consumer complaints, yet the number of spam calls placed in the United States has only grown. Up 46 percent between 2017 and 2018, Americans received a total of 48 billion robocalls last year. Why can’t we take care of this simple problem that annoys everyone with a landline or cell phone?

The United States has had regulations and laws against robocalls and spoofing caller ID for a while. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 restricts the use of auto-dialing systems for making calls to consumers, but as a consequence of lackluster enforcement of the TCPA, robocalls have only multiplied in numbers. There exists a national Do Not Call Registry, but it’s not exactly effective. According to Tim Marvin, a representative of Consumer Union, “crooks don’t care about the ‘Do Not Call List’,” and that the list is “ineffective.” Unfortunately, since this list is inadequate, many people are vulnerable to dangerous scams.  

Fraudulent callers often operate with the intention of stealing consumers’ personal information and money, often disguising themselves as IRS officials, police officers or debt collectors. April 17, tax day in the United States, saw the most spam calls placed in a single day in 2018. Scammers give fake “badge numbers” and names to unknowing Americans, pressuring them into divulging social security numbers, tax identification numbers and initiating cash transfers. The IRS, Federal Trade Commission and FCC receive millions of reports of such scams a year.  According to YouMail, a voicemail software company, around 1.3 billion scam calls were made targeting people with student loans, demanding immediate payment or access to bank accounts. Successful spam calls for the scammers result in direct cash transfers totalling in the thousands or even full on identity fraud. 

In the United States, there have been minimal efforts to fight off spam calls. In 2016, the FCC created the Robocall Strike Force. Contrary to what the name indicates, the “Strike Force” did nothing more than write a report — which resulted in no changes. However, they identified a few issues with our current enforcement, which includes regulatory roadblocks and telecom industry cooperation. It’s befuddling that they wish to work with the very industry that has led to these issues. 

After six months of research and communication with with telecom industry leaders, the Robocall Strike Force concluded that there isn’t much we can do. Their conclusion is exactly three sentences long and simply tells us that “significant progress has been made” and that the “industry is committed to continuing to develop mitigation tools.” With months of work and millions of taxpayer dollars, they were only able to come up with a vague description of the problem.

Personally, I think that they could’ve gone with a more menacing name like Strike Force Alpha and gotten even less done, but they did a great job at doing nothing. Funny enough, as I was writing this very sentence, I was interrupted by a ‘Scam Likely Call.’ It goes to show that spam calls disrupt work, decrease productivity and interrupt day to day lives. 

In Congress, where we put our faith in officials to protect us, neither chamber has been able to fix the problem. Recently, Senators Ed Markey, D-Mass., and John Thune, R-S.D., have introduced and passed legislation known as the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act which aims to protect citizens from robocalls. However, all the act does is make telecom companies attempt to identify more spam calls. 

It shouldn’t be too much to ask to get a simple solution to this simple problem. Independent companies like Hiya and Robokiller have done more work to squash spam calls than the entire government. If something is to get done, those in charge of the FCC must take back control and implement further regulations on the telecommunications industry. Despite this need, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has pushed for further deregulation across the board, erasing consumer protection. If elected officials and the government are really eager to address citizens’ concerns, then they must stop these fraudulent callers. 

Jeremy Siegel is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

related stories