Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Do Not Call Is Not Working

Still getting unwanted sales calls? Well, yeah.
Can we be serious here? The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003, and started in 2004. Ten years after, it doesn’t seem to be working. Since I’ve been working at home, I’ve been deluged with calls from businesses. Some of them are scams (they hang up the instant you ask for a return phone number), others seem to be legitimate local businesses.

According to the FTC, they’ve settled 105 in the last ten years. Oh, goody, that’s 10 a year. I think I’ve filed that many complaints this year alone. They’ve collected $118 million in civil penalties, and there has been a further $737 million in what they call “other recovery.” There were a further 34 cases for robocalls, which had $51 million in civil penalties and $198 million in that “other recovery” category.[1]

At ten cases a year, my guess is that the FTC only goes after the big offenders, those who have violated the Do Not Call Registry thousands of times. Are they going to bother going after a small offender who has made a few hundred calls in violation of the registry of which far fewer have even bothered to complain? I would guess that the companies that called me today probably have fewer than a dozen complaints against them in the registry (I don’t always fill out the complaint form).

Sure, they tout the $5.3 million dollars levied against DirecTV, but that’s a $48.5 billion company. Let’s do the math: 5,300,000 / 48,500,000,000 = 0.00010927835052, or 0.00% of their worth, when you round to two figures. I would guess that DirecTV just shrugged and considered it a cost of doing business. We could pretend that executives or stockholders took a hit because of this, but let’s be honest: the $5.3 million came out of the pockets of subscribers and low level employees.

I have actually spent time calling people (obviously this is not a possible response when they hang up on you without giving a phone number). In the cases where I have spoken to a company official, the phone calls have stopped. For a while, we were getting phone calls from a local solar installer. Telling the telemarketers “I’m on the Do Not Call registry, please do not call again” wasn’t actually effective. Calling the company president was.

I just got off the phone with the marketing manager for one company who called me. He gave the name of his telemarketing provider, so I called them. They assured me that the terms of service they give their clients specify that all lists must be checked against the Do Not Call Registry by the client. He described this as “not a trivial task,” but also one that they do not provide. He also had some insight on what the FTC does to companies that have violated the Do Not Call Registry. “There’s paperwork,” he said, “and it just keeps coming. It’s the bureaucrat’s revenge.”

Clearly, as my experience with the solar energy installers showed, some companies don’t seem to care about the paperwork (if the guy from the telemarking provider is to be believed). But maybe there’s some hope with getting rid of annoying telemarketing calls. Of course, that still leaves the scammers who don’t provide a phone number (and spoof their phone numbers for people using caller ID).

But even with all that, the number of unsolicited sales calls that come to my home telephone are pretty appalling. I’m glad to here that the FTC does address complaints. Still, it seems that the need to get a little tougher on things. If the Do Not Call Registry is working, it’s not working as well as it should.

  1. All this information is at the FTC website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0108-national-do-not-call-registry  ↩

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