Few things send me into apoplectic rage quite like unsolicited calls. I hate spam calls in general, I especially hate robocalls, and the whole thing tends to make me extremely shirty. There’s a reason I am registered for the Do Not Call list and there’s a reason I fume on Twitter for hours after getting obnoxious solicitation calls. This problem is really going to escalate in the next 12 months because during election years, unsolicited calls go into overdrive.
Before I delve into spam calls, a word about which unsolicited calls are legal and which are not. Broadly speaking on a federal level, regulations primarily cover sales calls. Political calls, those asking for participation in surveys, debt collection calls, charitable calls, and informational calls like 911 ringback are perfectly legal. Scams, of course, are not, and you can report them — e.g. if you get the perennial ‘donate to the local fire department/sheriff’s office’ scam, you can report it to government agencies as well as the group namechecked in the scam so they can alert the community. Sales calls are also legal if you’ve done business with a company recently.
In some states, there are specific laws about unsolicited calls that are more aggressive: In California, for example, robocalling is not legal. Such calls must be introduced by a live person unless they are 911 ringback calls. Period.
If you get an unwanted call, you can report it to three agencies: The FCC, the FTC, and the PUC. All three organisations track this information and while they won’t file suit on your behalf, they can use the data consumers provide in suits against companies that break the law and as leverage in negotiations with these companies. Reporting them is an act of public service, in other words — and tracking them can also help you sue them in the event that you need to.
In all cases, you should compile as much information about the call, including the date and time, the originating number (if possible), whether the caller identified a company/political candidate/business, and any other supplementary data. I always file reports immediately, while everything is fresh in my mind, but you can also just jot down that data to use later.
Reporting calls to the Federal Communications Commission
Here’s the link to filing phone-related consumer complaints with the FCC. You can report robocalls, telemarketing, and junk faxes (including those oh-so-obnoxious calls that you pick up only to be greeted with fax tones). After you file your complaint, they’ll send you a receipt, and it’s possible a representative will contact you for more information, but more likely, the information will be filed and possibly used later. If it collects enough complaints about a given company, it can use that information to launch an investigation, and you can smell the sweet sweet smell of justice.
Reporting calls to the Federal Trade Commission
Here’s the link to filing phone-related consumer complaints with the FTC. You can report all sorts of calls here as well, and the more information, the better. As with the FCC, the FTC doesn’t handle individual complaints, but it compiles data for use in ongoing investigations and it will ding companies that amass large numbers of complaints. Furthermore, you should also register a complaint with the Do Not Call registry, which is administered by the FTC.
Reporting calls to your state Public Utilities Commission
Since I live in California, I’m naturally going to provide a link to the California PUC reporting form. However, your state’s should be easy to find with Google — add ‘robocalling’ or ‘spam calls’ to the search string to get directly to the reporting form. If you’re having trouble finding it, you can call the PUC or write out a handwritten letter to send to their address. (Using a general contact form isn’t recommended because things have a tendency to get lost that way.) The PUC will determine if the complaint is actionable and it can facilitate justice, sweet justice, for you.
These aren’t the only options for reporting spam calls
As discussed above, if they regard a specific organization or company, you can alert them or complain as the case may be directly. If robocalls become an intractable problem, you can also ask for help from your Congressional Representative. When members of Congress aren’t busy taking payoffs from lobbyists and wasting funds on ill-advised legislation, they do actually have a mandate to assist their constituents, and many staff in local offices are both friendly and incredibly helpful with things like this. They can bring the Congressperson’s weight to bear on the situation and may be able to get traction when you cannot.
Should the situation really escalate, you can also take it to a lawyer and discuss your options for filing suit. This has been a historic problem with debt collectors, and people have won bigtime in some harassment suits over constant calls (including calls to old numbers, where the target of the calls isn’t even on that number anymore). Depending on the situation, you can also consider contacting your utility and requesting a new number, though this is obviously a huge pain in the tuchus because you have to go ’round alerting people to your new phone number and changing your contact information on various documents.
Remember: Every time you report an unwanted phone call, a sweet cuddly kitten curls up in an adorable ball and purrs itself to sleep.
Image: Spam wall, freezelight, Flickr