DRC_Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

Watchdog, please make the robocalls stop. I’m getting one about every hour.

Me, too. You remind me of the elderly Colleyville woman who called me every month with the same plea. I recently talked to her daughter, who explained that her mom thought my number was the official government phone number to stop the calls.

She was spamming you to stop the spam?

Right. I guess her daughter talked to her because her calls have stopped. But I’m still getting illegal calls about open enrollment for medical insurance, roofing inspections, a free cruise and extended car warranties.

Why can’t the government fix this?

You want the simple answer? Technology moves faster than government. Scammers can buy software and phone lists that make it possible to make millions of calls. Since many of these criminal enterprises are foreign, it’s harder for law enforcement to round them up.

Didn’t I see somewhere that the Federal Communications Commission set some kind of 2019 deadline for something?

Yes. You’re right. It wasn’t the entire commission, only FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who announced that he was giving telephone service providers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and others until next year to set up call authentication and blocking software on their networks so they can weed out these criminal calls. Under the plan, criminal callers could no longer assume fake identities on Caller ID.

What happens if the phone companies don’t do it?

The chairman says, “If it does not appear that this system is on track to get up and running next year, then we will take action to make sure that it does.”

Watchdog, haven’t we been hearing promises from the government and phone companies for years?

Goodness, yes. This has become the great unsolvable problem. For a time, it looked like some progress was going to be made when the previous FCC chairman created a “Robocall Task Force” led by AT&T chairman/CEO/president Randall Stephenson. The group included all the major phone and tech companies.

What happened to it?

The new chairman — Pai — came on board, and he let it die.

So is he against scam phone calls or not?

He claims he is. Pai is a Republican appointee and, as such, probably open to the business criticism that blocking robocalls would make it more difficult for legitimate businesses such as banks and pharmacies to make direct contact with their customers.

Is he doing anything?

He says this is his No. 1 priority. One of his plans is to make a national list of phone numbers that aren’t being used, so any old permissions for those numbers would disappear.

What does that mean?

If you give CVS permission to call or text you, and then you lose that phone number, CVS can now keep contacting that phone number. With a new expired-numbers list, it wouldn’t work that way anymore.

That seems minor to me.

Me, too. Most of my spam calls are not for anyone who previously had my number.

What is Pai doing about spam text messages?

He has a plan for that, too. He is going to ask his fellow FCC commissioners at their next public meeting on Wednesday to approve his idea to keep text messages labeled as information messages and not phone messages.

How does that help me?

Supposedly, not labeling them as phone-related makes it easier to regulate text messages more tightly than phone calls. This would allow more filtering to be used to weed out and block obvious spam messages.

What’s Congress doing about this?

Members have offered a lot of bills, but they go nowhere. They do, however, try to have really clever names. One offered by Republicans is called the TRACED Act — Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act.

Another, offered by Democrats, is called the REAL PEACE ACT — Robocall Elimination At Last Protecting Every American Consumer’s Ear Act.

Long names. I got three scam calls while reading their names.


What’s the state of Texas doing?

Forty state attorneys general from across the U.S. have signed a pledge to form a coalition to stop robocalls. A week after I asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office why he wasn’t on the list, the office announced Thursday evening that he would be signing on.

Do these guys that ruin my day with their robot calls ever get punished?

Rarely. This year, the FCC fined one guy $82 million for illegal caller ID spoofing. Another dude was fined $120 million for annoying us with his stupid “free vacation” calls.

Watchdog, do you think robocalls will get stopped?

I used to, but not anymore. This scourge just keeps on going — and getting worse. I fantasize about it stopping. If one day they’d come to a halt, we’d each get something like five minutes a day back in our lives.

How do I stop them now?

In the past I’ve toyed with Jolly Roger, which puts the callers on the line with a robot that strings them along, but that’s more for fun than anything. I’ve also recommended nomorobo.com, but that’s not working so well for me. I still get the calls.

The most important thing to do is to contact your phone provider and ask what kind of tools it offers, how they work and how much they cost. Ideally, they should be free. To charge is a crime in itself.


Think about it. They’re letting illegal calls through and then trying to charge you to block them. Jiminy.

What are the basics here?

Learn how to block specific numbers on your phone.

Don’t pick up.

Or hang up immediately.

Don’t push any numbers during the call. Don’t text back STOP. (They’ll know it’s a good number.)

Don’t engage.

And your best advice, Watchdog?

I did something last week that’s improved my mental attitude about this problem. I changed the ringtone on my cellphone to music I like. Now every time a criminal caller bothers me, I hear the theme from The Godfather. It’s appropriate, and it makes me feel better. I’m no longer annoyed.

Try it. Pick a song you like.

Recommended for you