I still have a landline in my home. I never answer it. But I do give the number to every store or online registration that requires a phone number. I take comfort in knowing that when that company starts calling the number with solicitations (and sells that number to other companies that will do the same), I can easily go through the old answering machine and delete away.
But now, I may have to do the same thing with my cellphone, and I'm not happy about it. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering allowing any marketer to leave a straight-to-voicemail message on anyone's cellphone. And the Republican National Committee supports it. Can you imagine seeing a red dot with the number 453 over your phone icon? Because I envision my phone getting so many voicemails that I'm going to want to throw it into the nearest dumpster.
Now, federal law says any company that participates in robocalls must have written consent before contacting you via cellphone. But a company called All About the Message says its ringless voicemail technology should be an exception. The cellphone will never ring. You'll just get the notification that there is a voicemail waiting. The company says by simply depositing a voicemail on a voicemail service, it "does not result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer's life — dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times or delivery charges to consumers." But what about the waste of my time?
The National Consumer Law Center agrees that if the FCC condones the loophole of ringless voicemails, consumers will likely be overwhelmed. Imagine going through voicemail after voicemail offering everything from alarm systems to contests for Caribbean cruises — and don't forget the inevitable messages from debt collectors, people begging for donations, and credit card companies. These organizations already make nearly 2.5 billion robocalls to smartphones every month.
Can't we just sign up on the Do Not Call Registry? The National Consumer Law Center believes it may not apply if these ringless voicemails are not considered to be actual calls.
In a joint letter, attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts and Kentucky are encouraging the FCC not to allow ringless voicemails. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says, "The federal government has a basic responsibility to protect American consumers. That certainly doesn't mean making it even easier for companies to spam them with costly, unsolicited, ringless robocalls."
The time for public comment to the FCC has already ended. So is there anything we can do to protect ourselves? Yes.
If you accidentally answer a robocall, hang up immediately. Don't utter a word. Don't push a button. Any interaction from you indicates your number is live and could lead to more calls.
Block the numbers associated with robocalls and robotexts. On iPhones, go to recent phone calls and tap the blue "i" information icon next to the number you want to block. Scroll to the bottom of the next screen and tap "Block this Caller." For most Androids, you can add the number to "Call Blocking" under settings. Another possible Android option is to go to your call log. Hold down the number you want to block and select "Block Number."
Make sure all your phone numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry. I found I had registered my landline when I moved in seven years ago. But I had never registered my mobile number. It's done now.
Download the Nomorobo app for iPhone (beta program available on Android). This app won a contest the Federal Trade Commission sponsored to combat the problem of companies spamming our phone lines. The app automatically blocks all robocalls, while still allowing notifications from schools or emergency agencies. You can sign up most landlines for free and pay $1.99 per device, per month, for smartphones. There's a free 30-day trial, so if you are already burdened by one too many robocalls, give it a shot and see if it pays off for you.