Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said it’s currently the No. 1 complaint to attorneys general across the country. That’s not really surprising since it happened some 3.5 billion times around the nation in April alone, and estimates have that number somewhere north of 4 billion for July — as much as 4.7 billion, according to some news outlets.
And it’s not mosquito bites. It’s something far worse for those of us who carry a mobile phone or two: robocalls and other unsolicited telemarketing and spam calls. The scourge of unsolicited calls has gotten so bad many of us have grown reluctant to answer a call not from a known telephone number or one that isn’t in the address books of our smartphones. And according to SocialCatfish.com, Maryland ranks No. 16 in the nation for robocall complaints — 127,143 of those were filed in 2018. No wonder the state attorney general sent out his press release last week announcing a new effort to combat the constantly growing number of unsolicited phone calls — at least the illegal ones.
Fifty-one attorneys general, which is all 50 states and the District of Columbia — how’s that for a bipartisan majority? — and 12 phone companies are promising to find better, easier ways to prosecute the scofflaws and to begin blocking illegal robocalls at the network level, and, one hopes, develop some added tools for consumers to block the legal but still annoying ones. There are no deadlines, but telecommunication companies are expected to roll out various call blocking technologies and other tools as soon as they can — indeed some such tools are reportedly in the testing phase in various parts of the country.
The big cellular and landline carriers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and Comcast, along with a cast of seven other carriers large and small, are committing to prevent robocalls by using call blocking technology within their networks — at no cost to consumers, according to the Frosh press release — implementing some kind of call authentication technology to ensure that calls are coming from a “valid source,” and provide better monitoring of their networks for illegal robocall traffic.
In turn, according to Frosh’s press release, those same carriers will help prosecutors by identifying and investigating suspicious callers and turning them and all information over to law enforcement for potential prosecution; tracing the origins of illegal robocalls — “tracebacks” — on behalf of prosecutors; and require other telephone companies with which they work to cooperate in that traceback identification. All of this should, if effective, alleviate some of the call volume for both wireless and wired telephone users.
“The goal of many of the individuals making these calls is to steal your identity or steal your money,” Frosh (D) said in his release. “These annoying and relentless calls are difficult to track and difficult to prosecute. Most often they originate outside our states and even outside our country.”
The SocialCatfish study, “The Rising Robocall Epidemic in America,” looked at the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission and found that 43% of all robocalls are scams. Among the most common are those purported to be coming from the IRS, health insurance companies and foreign consulates. One such scam, claiming to be from the Chinese consulate, has reportedly cost its victims more than $40 million, or $164,000 per victim.
While the telecommunication companies and attorneys general work out how best to end this scourge, phone users should think about registering their numbers with the Do Not Call List, avoid responding to questions that can be answered with only a “yes,” consider a legitimate robocall blocking app and take action by filing complaints with the FCC.
Maybe one day soon, we will all be able to answer our phones again confident that there is someone on the other end with whom we would truly like to talk.