The cover of the May issue of Consumer Reports hit home with me, and I'll bet it would with you, too.
It's an illustration of a very angry man screaming at the cellphone in his hand. Smoke is coming out of his ears. The headline: “Mad about robocalls? So are we!”
So am I. If you're not, you probably don't own a phone.
Robocalls have become an epidemic in a society in which 92 percent of the population owns a mobile phone and most of the rest own a landline.
To be sure, there are worse things in life. But when Consumer Reports asked readers to rate their level of annoyance from 1 to 10, with 10 being “tremendously annoying,” a whopping 52 percent punched up a 10.
The magazine says robocalls are now the top consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, accounting for an incredible 65 percent of the total.
Forget the “Do Not Call List.” To scammers, that's a joke.
The main problem is that these jackasses can trot out an endless series of fake numbers and locations. It's called “spoofing.”
If you think the problem is getting worse, bingo. Robocalls grew 57 percent from 2017 to 2018. Last year, 48 billion such calls were placed in the United States. That's billion, with a B.
Our consumer columnist, Betty Lin-Fisher, has written extensively about robocalls over the years, as have I. Very little has changed. The last time I addressed the issue, I reported my experience with a company called Nomorobo, which, for $2 a month, promised to eliminate robocalls on my cellphone.
Not even close. I gave the company a monthlong trial and it was only batting .333. That's great in baseball, but not so great if you're paying for a service that doesn't work two out of every three times.
So I just gave up and joined the 70 percent of Americans who have stopped answering their phone if they don't recognize the number. And why not? If it's a legitimate call, the caller will leave a voicemail.
Some callers are trying to force-feed you legitimate services, but they're in the minority. Most are scams, the two most common involving people mimicking Social Security and IRS phone numbers. (Neither of those groups is going to threaten to jail you, cut off your benefits or ask for personal financial information on the phone. Just hang up.)
Part of the problem is that it's almost impossible for U.S. law enforcement to get their hands on these jerks because many illegal robocalls come from crime rings based overseas.
Keep in mind that some robocalls are legal. Although almost all robocalls to your cellphone are not, political candidates and charities are permitted to use automatic dialing and prerecorded messages aimed at landlines.
Consumer Reports says certain spoofed calls are legal, too, in cases such as a women's shelter trying to keep abusers in the dark or a police department conducting an investigation.
But the vast majority of autodialed calls make you want to smash your phone with a hammer — as one frustrated CR reader reportedly did.
The magazine's 10-page article is not only packed with eye-popping facts — 1,517 robocalls are placed per SECOND — but also spotlights the only real solution: The Federal Communications Commission must force phone companies to provide mandatory ID verification technology at no cost to consumers.
The apps that are supposed to block calls to your cell don't work because there are just too many numbers. The founder of Nomorobo told me his blacklist is so long that connecting the entire list to your cellphone and updating it hourly would create a major drain on your battery and chew into your data usage.
That's why the only reasonable solution is for phone companies to take control of this mess.
They could do it with an emerging technology called STIR/SHAKEN (don't even ask what that acronym stands for), which would assign a digital fingerprint to calls to enable the carrier to determine the real identity of the caller.
Consumer Reports is leading a charge to get the FCC's attention. It has established an online petition at: robocallspetition.cr.org
The petition says, “We are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to require phone companies to adopt call-verification technology as soon as possible to stop harmful ‘spoofed’ robocalls. We also are demanding the FCC police the phone companies’ implementation of this technology to make sure it is as effective as possible at stopping these robocalls, and at no cost to consumers.”
I signed the petition on Monday. As of Wednesday afternoon, CR had collected 211,103 names. Its goal is 300,000 by the end of May.
I've never been a big fan of petitions, but this one I couldn't resist. Please join me.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31