If you've got the patience and time, the Federal Trade Commission will allegedly listen.
At 7:15 p.m. last Monday (July 13) we were finishing dinner and watching baseball’s Home Run Derby when the telephone rang. Upon answering, I was greeted by, “This is Maggie Clemens of Keller Williams.” Before I could fully respond, she stated she had a bad connection, would call back, and broke the connection. Less than a minute later she called back and I told her the call was unsolicited and in violation of the Do Not Call Act, to which she replied, “I didn’t know that” and hung up.
Despite being listed on the National Do Not Call Registry (Registry), these unsolicited, unwanted calls persist.
Early Tuesday, I went to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry website, where there are three main options: register a phone number, verify a registration, and submit a complaint.
After verifying my phone number and email address associated with the registration, the site provided the following: “You should receive an email from [email protected] within a few minutes. If your phone number is registered, the email will tell you the date of registration. If your phone number is not registered and you want it to be, use this Web site.”
Within seconds, the following email was received from [email protected]: “Thank you for registering your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You successfully registered your phone number ending in [XXXX] on June 29, 2003. Most telemarketers will be required to stop calling you 31 days from your registration date.”
Having verified that our telephone number has been listed on the National Do Not Call Registry for over 12 years, I then called Maggie Clemens of Keller Williams. I confirmed that she works out of the Keller Williams real estate office in La Mesa and asked her, “Is there a reason you call numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry?”
“There is,” she said, “but I better let Jason answer for us all.”
That would be Jason Lopez, team leader/broker of record at the Keller Williams La Mesa office. I then sent an email to the company, asking for a comment about Clemens’s statement that there is a reason they call numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry. In response, a company representative provided the following:
“Off the record, and after speaking with Maggie and getting her perspective on your conversation, we do have a policy in place and adhere to the do not call list rules, and as such do not knowingly call those numbers listed on the registry. In fact our policy includes maintaining a separate list of people who have been called and asked to not be called in the future, even if they are not on the national do not call list.
“As independent contractors our associates have access to a variety of third party vendors and sources for phone numbers around listing and sales activity that they tap into. We do not, as a brokerage, offer any numbers. Those vendors state they do scrub the lists they offer to remove numbers on the do not call registry.
“Is it possible that numbers on the list are made available? I'm sure it happens from time to time, however we do our best to maintain quality control and avoid calling those numbers. If you were called inadvertently, my apologies, but we do take steps to help limit this from happening.”
From the response, it seemed the only available course of action was to file a complaint. To do so, more information about the “variety of third party vendors and sources” would be needed.
In subsequent emails to the company I asked, “Who obtained and provided the third party vendor information to Clemens? What are the other sources noted in the response? Please provide the name(s)/identity(ies) of the third party vendors to which you referred.”
Unfortunately, in the absence of replies, the available information would have to suffice for filing the online complaint.
Clicking the “Submit a Complaint” button on the FTC website, the first screen came up, providing the following:
“You may file a complaint if you received an unwanted call after your number was on the National Registry for 31 days. You may also file a complaint if you received a call that used a recorded message instead of a live person (whether or not your number was on the Registry). Reminder: Even if your number is registered, some organizations may still call you, such as charities, political organizations, and telephone surveyors. For a full description of who may still call you, please consult our Consumer FAQs. Debt collectors may also continue to call you whether your number is on the Registry or not. If you have a complaint about a debt collector, please Click Here to file your complaint. For more information about your rights regarding debt collectors Click Here.”
Continuing to file the complaint, the next window asked, “What is your phone number, or the phone number that received the call, if different? When did you receive the call? Was the call a recorded message or robocall? Did you receive a phone call or a mobile text message? ”
After filling in this information and clicking on “Continue,” the next window asked for as much of the following information as possible: phone number of the company that called; name of the company that called; had we done business with the company within the last 18 months or contacted them within the last 3 months; had we asked the company to stop calling; voluntary personal information; and a section for comments.
Fortunately, my phone had captured the telephone number from which the Monday evening call was placed and minor sleuthing enabled me to confirm the individual who placed the call, the company for which she works, and additional information. After providing the information and comments, I was taken to a window confirming the complaint had been submitted. It also provided information, more or less FAQ, including the following.
Will I hear back from the FTC regarding my complaint? “Due to the volume of complaints, the FTC cannot respond directly to every complaint. The FTC and other law enforcement agencies analyze complaints to spot trends and to identify and take action against the people responsible for these illegal calls.”
What can I do to stop unwanted calls? “Make sure your number is on the Do Not Call Registry. Hang up on illegal sales calls. If your number is on the Registry, and you get a sales call, or you get an illegal robocall, don't interact in any way. Don't press buttons to be taken off the call list or to talk to a live person. Doing so will probably lead to more unwanted calls. Instead, hang up and file a complaint with the FTC. Investigate whether call blocking can help. If you get repeated illegal calls from one particular number, contact your phone company. Ask to block that number, but first ask whether there's a fee for this service. If you get unwanted calls from many different numbers, look into a call blocking solution. There are online call blocking services, call-blocking boxes, and smartphone apps that block unwanted calls. Research whether the service costs money and whether it's effective. Do an online search to look for reviews from experts and other users.”
My number is on the registry, so why am I still getting illegal calls? “To date, the FTC has sued hundreds of companies and individuals who were responsible for placing unwanted calls, and has obtained over a billion dollars in judgments against violators. In addition, the FTC is leading several initiatives to develop a technology-based solution. The FTC has sponsored a series of robocall contests challenging the tech savvy public to design tools that block robocalls and help investigators track down and stop robocallers. The FTC also is encouraging industry efforts to combat caller ID spoofing.”
I gave you the number of the company who called me illegally. Why isn’t the FTC doing something? “Current technology makes it easy for scammers to fake or ‘spoof’ caller ID information, so the number you reported in your complaint probably isn't real. Without more information, it's difficult for the FTC and other law enforcement agencies to identify the actual caller. Nonetheless, the FTC analyzes complaint data and trends to identify illegal callers based on calling patterns. The agency also is pursuing a variety of technology-based solutions to combat illegal calls and practices.”
OK, swell. As the consumer, I did about everything that can be done.
Reviewing the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry FY2014 Data Book, last year (October 1, 2013–September 30, 2014), nationwide there were nearly 218 million registered telephone numbers. During that year, 3,241,086 Do Not Call Registry complaints were filed nationally, with 493,508 coming from California, more than twice that of any other state, which is strange since California ranks 39th in active registrations per 100,000 population.
Locally, 15,552 complaints were filed from area code 619 and 11,909 from area code 858. The five top statewide area codes for filed complaints were 714 (Long Beach–Anaheim), 310 (Los Angeles), 909 (Riverside), 805 (Bakersfield–San Luis Obispo), and 650 (San Jose).
After all this, it is reasonable to conclude the “variety of third party vendors and sources” allegedly providing scrubbed lists, as well as the companies making the illegal calls to phone numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry, are probably counting on consumer complacency, since most of us are unwilling to go through the process and effort of registering our phone numbers, let alone filing a complaint. We just find it easier to gripe and hang up. Therefore, without phone numbers being registered and complaints being filed, the FTC cannot discern a trend or pattern for the company, so the same old stuff keeps happening. The calls continue.
However, if consumers register their telephone numbers, file the complaints, and company “X” develops a trend or establishes a pattern, regardless of the “variety of third party vendors and sources” behind which they may attempt to hide, maybe company “X” will be one of those investigated and sued by the FTC.