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Tackling the intolerable telemarketer: Who ya gonna call?

grubaugh new picBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    If you had a complete stranger come banging on your door multiple times each week, you’d finally run him off, either by threat or force.
    Why can’t we do the same with telemarketers and robocalls? They are no less obtrusive, but they are a lot harder to give the boot.
    The thought comes to me every so often, but it heated up with the recent election, when the house line was swamped with both automated and live calls. I know I’m not alone in my annoyance, since every time I mention the issue friends queue up in agreement.
    Why, then, if so many of us want an end to unwanted calls, aren’t we being protected by our elected leaders? Could it be they want no part in stopping a process that actually helps them stay in office?
    Sadly, the answer is not so simple.
    Political robocalls are exempt from the U.S. National Do Not Call Registry and have been since the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The Federal Communication Commission also permits charity and survey calls on landlines, but bans them — and political calls — on cellphones without your prior consent. That partially explains why landlines have been dumped in droves in recent years.
    New call-blocking technology and Internet apps have been developed in recent years to help with the problem, but the callers that want to get to you still manage to do so, and even when they are reported they seem able to persist. Some use a system known as “spoofing” to fake caller ID information. Many telemarketers are also outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
    Add to this the continuing problem of scam calls — those that threaten prosecution by the IRS, FBI, banks and others for bad credit, back taxes and other ridiculous scenarios. A bill was recently introduced in Illinois to address specifically this issue, and I wish the sponsors well.
    I wrote this column from home, and as I did so, I received three unwanted calls in the span of two hours. One was an automated call for a back brace I supposedly saw on TV (my back is fine). Two others were live people fishing for hail storm clients.
    It’s a wonder that any of us can stay off the phone.
    You can put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry by registering online at or by calling toll-free 1 (888) 382-1222. Registration is free.
    The law requires telemarketers to search the registry every 31 days and avoid calling any number on the registry. If you receive telemarketing calls after your telephone number has been in the registry for 31 days, you can file a complaint at the aforementioned number.
    Marketers who violate the no-call list can be fined up to $40,000 per call. You do have to catch them, though.
    I had to look all this up, but I wonder: How many of us actually know all this, and why should we have to go through such aggravation to enjoy peace in our homes?
    The no-call law is flawed at best. The Federal Trade Commission brags that it has stopped “billions” of robocallers through its continuing crackdown. Yet, it admits it received more than 3 million robocall-related complaints last year. I’m sure that’s the tip of the iceberg. Few of us take the time to call a federal agency to complain about anything.
    So, let me recap: If I’m sitting at home, I have no choice but to put up with politicians and their emissaries, charities, scammers and anybody who can work around my caller ID. And, I have the opportunity, if I wish, to continually tell people not to call, take me off their lists, and have faith that they will.
    Seems like there should be a better way. Seems like our numbers should be automatically excluded without advance permission. I’d tell somebody that if I could figure out who to call.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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