Unwanted and illegal telemarketing calls, many of them automated robocalls, are the Federal Trade Commission’s No. 1 complaint category. It received 1.9 million complaints in the first five months of this year and refers to them as Consumer Enemy #1.
We also hear about them at the Better Business Bureau and I’m often asked by consumers whether they should bother filing a complaint with regulators. My answer has been that it’s a good idea, but that they generally don’t follow up on individual complaints so the consumer shouldn’t expect any resolution of his particular problem.
Consumers also want to give me the number that appeared on their caller ID so I can trace it. The BBB doesn’t have the technological capability to do that and the number is probably being spoofed (faked) anyway. A call that looks like it’s coming from the 731 area may actually originate in Jamaica.
My response to whether a consumer should file a complaint and the value of capturing the number has now changed based on a new initiative by the FTC to attack the problem. The agency will start collecting telephone numbers reported by consumers and share them on a daily basis with telecom companies and other industry partners who are developing technologies and other solutions to block illegal calls.
Many call blocking tools rely on blacklists, which are databases of numbers that consumers report as the source of illegal calls. The new data the FTC will collect and share includes the date and time the consumer got the call, the general subject matter, and whether it was a robocall. The subject matter would include calls about debt reduction, warranties, home security systems, and other products that are peddled in this manner. Telecom and other partners will use the data to determine which calls should be blocked or flagged.
Even if the number is faked, reporting it will be useful. Call blocking technologies can help prevent spoofed calls.
In announcing the new initiative, FTC Acting Chairwoman Maureen K. Ohlhausen said, “Sharing the critical information from consumers’ unwanted call complaints to enable industry innovators to stop illegal robocalls is exactly the type of public-private partnership the FTC champions.”
The FTC press release cited two reasons consumers should support the fight against illegal robocalls. First, consumers bothered by such calls may not be as receptive to legitimate forms of advertising, so they’re bad for businesses. Second, “because they annoy the heck out of you.”
To file a complaint, visit www.donotcall.gov, click on Report Unwanted Calls, and follow the instructions. You can register your home or mobile number on the National Do Not Call Registry on the same website.
The FTC also uses complaint reports to spot emerging forms of fraud, help set FTC priorities, and bring law enforcement actions.
So the next time someone says “Nobody likes a complainer,” tell them the FTC does!