Rampant robocalls and what can be done to stop them

These days, when your phone rings, there’s a good chance it’s an unwanted robocall.

“The number of robocalls is increasingly tremendously,” said Margot Saunders, Senior Counsel for the National Consumer Law Center. “(There were) three billion robocalls in March 2018.”

Recent testimony from the Federal Trade Commission revealed it received more than 4.5 million complaints about robocalls in the 2017 fiscal year.

Even the Miami man dubbed the “robocall kingpin” admits to receiving plenty of unsolicited calls himself.

“I decline the call,” Adrain Abramovich told Senate panel recently. “I never answer the phone.”

Abramovich is currently facing a $120 million dollar FCC fine for allegedly making 97 million robocalls in a three-month span.

His attorney declined an interview request from CBS 4, but earlier this month, Abramovich testified after being subpoenaed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

“My involvement has been overstated. I am not the kingpin of robocalling as has been said,” Abramovich explained. “When there’s a robocall, automatically they are criminals, it’s a scam. They’re all a scam. Not all are a scam. Some are legitimate people trying to sell something.”

In reality, the National Consumer Law Center says of the 20 most prolific robocallers, 15 are debt collectors and at least two are scammers.

The problem is fraudsters don’t care about that list and will keep calling anyway because so far, they’ve gotten away with it.

“There is no silver bullet. A big part of the problem is that technology has made it easy and cheap to engage in this kind of behavior,” said Rosemary Harold with the FCC.

Abramovich agrees.

“There is software out there where people can make thousands of phone calls in the click of a button,” he said.

A quick search yielded more than a million results for “robocall service”.

We picked one and signed up for the free service. Within minutes, we’d sent a robocall. It was that easy.

Robocalls are not all bad, of course. They’re useful when confirming appointments, reminding you of prescriptions and alerting you to emergencies. But the key here is “consent”.

Phone service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Sprint offer programs to block the incessant, unwanted robocalls.

But Kevin Rupy with the United States Telecom Association says even that won’t stop the problem completely.

“We are not going to block our way out of this problem,” Rupy said. “We need to take a holistic approach in terms of getting tools out there, informing consumers and criminal and civil enforcement.”

Senators have introduced the ROBOCOP (Repeated Objectionable Bothering Of Consumers On Phones) Act, which would require phone companies to offer free effective tools to block robocalls.

In Florida, you can fill out an online complaint form for unwanted robocalls with the Division of Consumer Services. The online form can be found here.

You can also add your name to the Florida Do Not Call Program here. 

Author: CBS Miami
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