Jeri Vargas put her elderly mother on the Do Not Call list years ago. So why is the 88-year-old woman with
The phone companies say they worry that automatic call blocking might run afoul of laws requiring them to connect phone calls and have asked the FCC to clarify that it doesn't. Many carriers offer call blocking services to consumers, sometimes for a fee. But they also don't want regulators to create any hard-and-fast rules, which they say could be difficult to implement.
Consumer groups counter that the phone companies are dragging their feet for no good reason and that, once given the green light from the FCC, could block most robocalls if they wanted.
"It is time for
AT&T says it's not as easy as it sounds. Robocallers can easily "spoof" their identity and location by pretending to be from a legitimate source or by altering the caller ID. So blocking robocalls is "a bit like a game of Whac-A-Mole: just as numbers are identified for blocking, the robocaller spoofs another number," the company said in an FCC filing.
The U.S. passed the widely popular Do Not Call legislation in 2003. Commercial telemarketers are not allowed to call you if you've put your number in the registry unless they have "an established business relationship" with you.
But unsolicited phone calls remain a top consumer complaint. The Federal Trade Commission, which goes after businesses for deceptive practices, says it receives an average of 150,000 complaints a month on robocalls and has filed more than 100 lawsuits against violators of the Do Not Call rules.
Still, regulators and phone companies say they remain stumped on how to fix the problem for good.
"For every company we can shut down, there are probably 10 to 100 companies that can pop up in its place," said Patty Hsue, an FTC staff attorney who leads the agency's technical initiatives against robocalls.
A common example is "Rachel from Cardholder Services." The automated voice recording encourages listeners to press a number, which connects them with someone who promises to lower their interest rates in exchange for an upfront fee. The FTC was able to trace the calls to multiple people inside the U.S. and demand refund checks, but copycat scams continue.
For Vargas, it was the aggressive telemarketing calls that tipped her off to her mother's failing health. Yachting equipment arrived at the house one day, followed by magazines, books and light bulbs her mom didn't need.
Vargas hid her mom's credit cards, only to find out later that a man claiming to sell fire extinguishers had her mom search through old statements to provide him a credit card number. Vargas says she thinks that robocalls were an easy way of identifying her mother as a vulnerable target. Now the phone rings all day long, but Vargas is reluctant to get rid of the line in case of an emergency.