Have you received one of those annoying robocalls recently? If so, you might be surprised to learn the call is likely illegal ... and the sales pitch is almost certainly a scam.

Have you received one of those annoying robocalls recently? If so, you might be surprised to learn the call is likely illegal ... and the sales pitch is almost certainly a scam.


Yet despite new rules that went into effect last month, the number of prerecorded telephone calls pitching goods and services seems not to have diminished in the slightest. In fact, if my personal experience is any indication, they have actually gotten worse.


Several times a week my cellphone rings, flashing an unfamiliar number. The calls come from different states, but invariably each time I answer I hear a mechanical voice informing me this is my “final notice” if I want to lower my credit-card interest rates. It never is, of course.


Initially, I just hung up and went about my day. But weeks later, I was still getting the calls ... at all hours of the day and night. So when a call woke me early one morning, in a fit of pique I pressed the number to speak to a real person. But the minute I asked what credit card they were calling about, the person hung up.


Since then, I have tried everything — politely explaining that they are calling my cellphone and wasting my airtime minutes, requesting that they take me off their list, asking them what company they work for, telling them I am on the Do Not Call Registry and threatening to report them, informing them that these calls are illegal and they are breaking the law ... even feigning interest in their offer, but saying I am in a meeting and asking for a phone number that I could call back later.


All resulted in the same thing: a quick click as the call was disconnected. There was one exception last week, though — the man on the other end of the line, oddly enough, broke into song. I don’t know if that is some bizarre new training strategy, but it did momentarily stun me into silence.


After a few lines of “Mr. Bombastic,” however, I did manage to get him to stop so I could repeat my request. At which point, of course, he promptly hung up.


So what can be done?


“Consumer complaints help us bring law enforcement actions,” Frank Dorman of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Public Affairs told me in an email. “Most businesses can use prerecorded telemarketing messages only when calling consumers who have given written permission to accept them. It doesn’t matter whether your number is on the National Do Not Call Registry, or whether the call is answered by a person or voicemail service. Nor does it matter if a business has an established business relationship with a customer, or if a telemarketing campaign delivers prerecorded messages only to voicemail services or answering machines. The Telemarketing Sales Rule bars telemarketing calls that deliver recordings — with few exceptions. Those who deliver prerecorded telemarketing messages to consumers without permission face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.”


In fact, last month the FTC reached a settlement with F&F Payment Processing, which also operated under “AFL Financial Services” or variations of “AFL,” for defrauding approximately 13,000 consumers ... to the tune of $13 million. The company promised to lower customers’ credit card interest rates for a $995 fee. According to the FTC, they did not deliver on that pledge — their efforts failed, or they simply didn’t try.


However, it is difficult to track down and fine companies that use fake phone numbers and train workers to abruptly hang up when asked for information about their employer. So perhaps it is time we turn the tables on the scammers.


Next time you get one of those calls, why not string them along a bit? Keep the shysters on the line as long as you can to gather information that you can then relay to the FTC and your state Attorney General’s office ... all while not giving them a bit of usable, factual information in return.


Even if you don’t get anything helpful, if enough of us waste their time it likely won’t be long before making illegal robocalls becomes too unprofitable to continue. And if wasting a few minutes of my day is what it will take to permanently hang up on robocalls, that is a price I am willing to pay.


Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com.