Why the Do Not Call list doesn't work anymore

It was nice while it lasted

Carol Stewart is at wit’s end, because the calls won’t stop.

“I’m getting inundated,” the frustrated woman said. 

Multiple times a day, live or automated robocallers ring her home phone—to sell her vacations, lower her credit card rates, or ask for donations.

“Somebody will be saying I’ve got a vacation package for you, that we thought you might be interested in, and I just hang up. Because I’m not interested in it,” she said.

It’s gotten so bad that she checked to see if her name is still on the National Do Not Call List that she signed up for more than a decade ago. She learned she is still on the list. But it’s not doing a thing for her.

“I really wonder if there is a Do Not Call list, and if it really is working,” she said.

Demitrius Duke is getting hammered with robocalls, too, though on his cell phone. He’s heard from all the usual suspects: “Rachel from Card Services,” several fake IRS agents, and the girl who claims she dropped her headset. 

He even put his cell phone on the Do Not Call list a couple of years ago, but says ”I think it’s pathetic. It doesn’t work, doesn’t work at all,” he said.

Why the Do Not Call List is failing

So what’s going on here? Has the Do Not Call list outlived its usefulness? Is it time to give up on it? And if so, how do you stop these calls now?

The Federal Trade Commission, which runs the list, says it has become impossible to stop many calls.

Janice Kopec, staff attorney for the FTC, said "in 2015, we received over 3.4 million complaints about do-not-call and robocall violations. In 2016, we received over 5 million complaints about do-not-call and robocall violations."

She says the list is very much alive, and in fact has 200 million—yes, million—landline and cell phone numbers on it.  

So what’s the problem? New technology, she says. Thanks to cheap programs that allow scammers to disguise their numbers through what’s known as “caller ID spoofing,” they can make you think they are someone else.

“The spoofed number that comes up on the caller ID can look like it is a local call. So you can be fooled into picking it up thinking it’s your pharmacy or your school. You can no longer rely on the caller ID to let you know if the call is safe or not,” Kopec said. 

In addition, the law has never stopped scammers willing to break federal law. And that’s who makes most calls these days.

"We go after the folks making the calls, but for every action we bring and every operation we shut down, unfortunately there's five more operations behind that sending out unwanted calls,” Kopec explained.

Scammers are also calling from outside the country, which means U.S. rules don't apply to them.

So what can you do?

There are some apps you can download to block most of these calls on a cell phone:

All will help. But major cell phone companies, under pressure from consumers, are finally getting involved.

New wireless company services

T-Mobile and AT&T have brand new programs this year where unknown numbers will show up as “possible scam” on your phone screen. T-Mobile's system is automatic, with nothing to sign up for or download. At AT&T, you can sign up for their free Call Protect service.

Verizon says it is working on a similar service.

Some cell phone users we showed the new feature to a couple of weeks ago loved it. “That would be great to have,” one woman told us.

What about Carol Stewart’s landline? Unfortunately, landlines are not able to keep up with constantly changing robocall technology.

You can press *77 to block "unknown" or "anonymous" callers, but that can also block your Aunt Marge, who might have her number set  to show up as anonymous.

So the best that she and others can do, for now, is to monitor their Caller ID, and simply not pick up unknown numbers.  Ever.

She hopes by not picking up, the unwanted calls will slow. 

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