back to article Robocall spammers, you have one new voicemail message: Cut it out!

A US Senator is looking to turn up the heat on a particularly annoying new robocall practice. Charles Schumer (D-NY) plans to pressure America's comms watchdog, the FCC, for a ban on straight-to-voicemail calls that plant recorded messages on phones without them ever actually ringing. Under proposed new rules, the practice …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fuck off Schumer.

    This is the same tool that supported the merger of Comcast and Time Warner back in 2014, and failed to disclose that his brother was the attorney that worked out the deal.

    If it's an issue worth fighting for, then as a Senator he should be submitting a bill to remedy the problem. That's what a responsible lawmaker would do.

    Irresponsible lawmakers offer only sound bites and "us vs them" narratives. Worthless.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fuck off Schumer.

      Party aside, it is generally not a law that is passed, unless as a last resort, because the FCC has rules in place already. This is respecting an agency to do what it was chartered to do and abide by already passed laws and rules that have been vetted already previously.

      All he is asking for is that the petition be thrown out and existing rules be used to classify them correctly. Not defending him, just the process and how it works.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Fuck off Schumer.

        Good luck getting any legislation passed, with just about anything being a partisan issue. We don't need a law for everything, the FCC can use existing laws to issue regulations to handle stuff like this. Unfortunately the FCC is now fully in the hands of big business with Pai. He'd probably drop do not call completely if he thought he could get away with it.

        I think they should ban straight to voicemail calls completely. Make them illegal not only for those covered by do not call, but also by those who aren't - i.e. companies you have an existing relationship with, non profits, and politicians. There's no reason that AT&T should be able to insert a voicemail on my phone just because they're my cell carrier, nor should Greenpeace or Trump be able to drop one in asking me to donate.

        Otherwise voicemail will become useless, and I'll have to change my message to ask people to leave messages in some other form.

  2. Steve Foster
    Facepalm

    If it passes...

    ...the obvious course of action will be to sign up Ajit Pai's phone numbers to every list that can be found.

  3. Number6

    How about companies can leave such messages on my voicemail provided I get $10 plus another $2/minute of message in my account in advance of them leaving the message. That would adequately compensate me for my time in deleting the crap and encourage brevity on their part.

    Or (b) just lock them all up.

    At some point I'll figure out how to disable the voicemail on my phone which might also solve the problem.

  4. hellwig

    Straight to Voicemail?

    Why is this technology even a thing? What reasonable purpose could this have? If you don't want to talk to someone, do what we've always done; figure out when they aren't going to be around their phone/won't be able to answer it , and call them during that time. Bur really, who listens to their voicemail anymore? I use the speech-to-text translations, most people seem to just call me back without listening at all.

    Of course, there's always old people. Imagine your poor grandmother sitting through hundreds of voicemails from scammers, hoping the next message is from one of her children or grandchildren just calling to say hi. You heartless bastards!

    And seriously, why is people's time not important/valuable? That's why most people are on the do not call list.

    1. JustsomeBlokeinAz
      Big Brother

      Re: Straight to Voicemail?

      Generally, most PBX voicemail systems have an option to dial in and record a message directly in to the inbox of the extension/person you want. This reeks of something more sinister, like digital back end delivery. Otherwise, I can imagine the Telcos would be whining endlessly over the increased traffic load on their voicemail system inconveniencing them errr... I mean their customers.

      Of course, mine usually gets cleaned out/listened to once a year when I hit the maximum storage size and need to clean it up so I pretend to care about the messages. If it's important, e-mail or text is the way to go...

    2. VinceLortho
      Devil

      Re: Straight to Voicemail?

      "Why is this technology even a thing?"

      Someone offered the telecoms money...

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Straight to Voicemail?

      Imagine your poor grandmother sitting through hundreds of voicemails from scammers, hoping the next message is from one of her children or grandchildren just calling to say hi.

      Most of the people involved no longer have grandmothers - they sold them to the mystery meat market long ago to gain a few extra dollars..

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't ever answer a number you don't know and deactivate your voice mail.

    People you know text you or email you if they need something.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Won't work.

      Please go and make the NHS stop calling you (for legitimate reasons) with their number withheld. Doing this makes the calls just like scammers, Indian MS Support and the rest of the scum out there.

      Despite my complaints, he NHS won't stop this practice so you are stuffed and will have to keep on getting this crap.

      It is not only the NHS. Some 'Carelines' withhold their number. If you don't know, this is a service for the elderly and infirm.

      And it goes on.

      I wish it would stop but it the 'Number Withheld' plague seems to be spreading. Now my local council is doing it yet the leader of the council could not provide a reason for it.

      1. Chemical Bob

        Re: Won't work.

        "Please go and make the NHS stop..."

        The NHS doesn't call anyone where the FCC operates.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      I always answer unknown numbers, most of the time it's just an automated system that hangs up after a few seconds (I've no idea why it does this, or if it's even the same system each time).

      The rest are usually spammers, and they get to listen to my pocket for as long as they like.

  6. ratfox Silver badge

    Wow

    Not only they would be able to call anyone indiscriminately, but since it's just a voice message and not an actual conversation, they can just play a recording to your voicemail.

    I'm curious to see if Idiot Pai dares wave this through. That would send a fantastic message.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Wow

      Well, then maybe the company should base themselves in India or Pakistan. Seems I've getting an lot of calls from the Microsoft Support Branch Office over there lately. If weren't pissing me off so much, I'd find it funny that all the calls lately are coming in between midnight and 3 a.m. I wish they'd use a real number so I could auto-forward them to.. say... Pai.

      And yes, the Do-Not-Call list seems to be universally ignored. I've had calls come in that start with: "We know you're on the Do-Not-Call list but have a fantastic deal we know you won't want to miss." Like who buys aluminum siding for a brick house?

  7. vir

    As Long As We're At It

    Can we also get a ban on those calls that ring once and then hang up in the hopes that you'll call back to hear their sales pitch for whatever?

  8. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

    Spammers/scammers

    I really don't understand why (other than $ in the correct pockets of course) spammers/scammers are allowed to operate. They are universally hated by the people who get on their lists. It is a constant flak barrage to the various congress critters by the people saying that they don't want to be bothered by cold calls. Unfortunately it is allowed and they aren't hunted down like rabid dogs. The latest trend I am seeing is the use of the last number called as caller id to the next call.

    I wish I could figure out a way to concretely identify these companies and the physical location of headquarters and of the owners. I'm guessing that splashing their full contact information on the old interwebs would lead to repercussions they wouldn't like.

    Real question: Is this an issue in the UK and/or Europe?

    EDIT: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/06/23/florida_man_fined_120m_for_robocalls/

    He must have gotten a few of the congress critters numbers on his call list...

    1. Len Goddard

      Re: Spammers/scammers

      Yes it is, at least in the UK. In theory the telephone preference service list should be respected by callers but so many marketing calls come from overseas that there is not a lot that can be done unless you invest in a smart answerphone which deals with calls on the basis of their origin. Calls from autodiallers with pre-recorded messages are particularly annoying because you can't even amuse yourself by wasting the callers time or trying to get them so worked up that they swear at you.

      1. Nunyabiznes Silver badge

        Re: Spammers/scammers

        Ah, thank you. Too bad this is a such a widespread issue with seemingly little recourse.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Spammers/scammers

        "In theory the telephone preference service list should be respected by callers but so many marketing calls come from overseas that there is not a lot that can be done"

        In practice, whilst individual breaches are technically punishable the regulator doesn't bother.

        There's no private right of action and no statutory damages (unlike the TCPA), so the whole thing is a paper tiger. Fines get announced but the companies responsible simply fold their tents and steal off in the night.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Spammers/scammers

      It's an issue in Europe too. Often politicians are connected is some ways to those companies, and favour them over citizens.

      In Italy, until a few years ago the system was opt-in. But one day, Mr. Berlusconi decided to "sustain economic growth" the system had to change into opt-out, and a "do not call list" was introduced - just of course that's sometimes ignored, not everybody is aware of it, and it allows only fixed line numbers, not mobiles.

      Now under a new "competition act" three clueless politicians tried to "improve" the law introducing the idea you can refuse a call after the first one (!) - thus letting telemarketers to call you at least once, what could go wrong?

      The real reason is these companies are easy to create and to make easy money, especially since you use cheap people desperate to get a job, or even recorded messages. In some environments, these "entrepreneurs", are often close to some kind of politicians always looking for money and jobs in exchange for votes, and it is easy to slip a new rule inside the next act to be voted....

      It's also not a surprise, that well before Uber, those companies here could hire people as contractors even if they had to work like employees. Now, for incoming calls only they have to hire employee, but for the outgoing ones (the worst work, of course), they can still hire contractors - everything legal, politicians took care of ensuring the remunerative toy work...

  9. steve 124

    pointless yet horrible

    First, I don't understand the first guys' immediate jump on Schumer for supporting a law that actually needs to be passed (even though, the DNC list is about as useless as the ole "screendoor on a submarine").

    This stuff really upsets me. Why have we not initiated a true caller ID system for VOIP yet? It's not really that much more difficult to trace than a POTS system. If telecoms would just drop any VOIP connection that is misrepresenting the originating IP Gateway to spoof a different ID this whole robocall problem would go away.... oh wait, oh yeah, the telecoms are making money off these international calls (by getting a slice of the ill-gotten gains) so they don't have a motivation to do this do they?

    The DNC list is a joke. I've been on it for years, and cell phones are distinctly "off-limits" for all solicitations in the US, but the companies doing this (99% are Indian) give three chits about the US law. They are pretty much untouchable.

    Here's how I see this story in a year:

    Dr. Smith... you have 358 new voice mail messages... 1 is marked urgent... playing first message, received on August 3rd, 2017... at 1:37 pm... from 888-555-2222... duration 15 seconds...

    "HI!! CAN YOU HEAR ME??? MY HEADSET WAS HAVING TROUBLE...."

    (Somewhere else in the hospital an EKG machine goes solid tone)

    Wouldn't it be easier to just target 2 or 3 critical telephone poles in Indian with a sidewinder and take their entire power grid offline for a few weeks, rinse and repeat?

    I'd love to see the videos of repair men being electrocuted trying to fix the damage on Live Leak.

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Congress Critters at it again

    While robocallers are very annoying, one should remember many are illegal operations to begin with under current laws. Adding another law they will ignore is not going to stop them. The only thing Chuckie is doing is what Congress critters are best at - subtracting from the sum total of human knowledge.

  11. Alan Brown Silver badge

    TCPA applies

    Because americans PAY to receive calls on their mobiles and also pay to clear voicemail.,

    Forget annoyance. This is cost-shifted advertising, pure and simple.

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: TCPA applies

      It's the Pay As You Go folks that will really suffer from this shit.

      Companies like Tr@cphone charge to answer an incoming call, to initiate an outgoing call, then charge by the full minute (rounded up) to listen to the caller or talk to the called. They ALSO charge to check your voice mail, plus a by the full minute (rounded up) charge to listen to them.

      So what if the caller goes straight to VM, it'll still cost the recipient real money to check the VM, listen to the spam, & then angrily delete the crap before hanging up.

      If your advertising costs me money then don't be surprised if I send you the bill. If I had a Tr@cphone & had to pay to even listen to my VM, I'd be incandescent at some fekkin spammer costing me a months worth of air time in a day or two of emptying all the crap VMs.

      I agree with the poster that wanted to add Pai's numbers to such spammers lists, but then I also agree with the one that involved direct nuclear strikes to the location that placed the call, the people that benefit from the call, the people that caused the call to be made, the people that ordered the call to be made, & everyone else in the chain that ended up costing me money.

      *Growls*

      "But it doesn't ring their phone! It shouldn't count as a call!" Bullshit. You HOPE it doesn't, but you don't know that - maybe my VM was full & it auto shunted the call back to the ring; maybe the caller doesn't HAVE voice mail & thus your "send it to vm tone" doesn't work; maybe you messed up & my phone rang anyway; it all boils down to you dialed my number & the phone company connected your call attempt, so that makes it a phone call by definition.

      "But nobody pays to check their voice mail!" Also bullshit. Pay As You Go subscribers do *exactly* that, so your call costs them money.

      "But they can just delete the voice mail if they don't like it!" Fuck you. You're wasting our time to do something we shouldn't be forced to do in the first place. If you spam my email then the filters can block, auto delete, or filter on various criteria to aid me in dealing with the load. Until such capabilities are readily & freely available to the VM user, then all those spammy VM do nothing but clog up the box, waste space, & prevent others from leaving legit messages.

      Every bullshit excuse you try to use to justify your direct to VM plan we can counter with a swift kick in the balls. You keep makin' 'em & we'll keep kickin' 'em!

      1. collinsl

        Re: TCPA applies

        I'm so sorry that the US is so unenlightened as to make you pay for voicemails. That's not the case here in the UK however.

        Nor do we have to pay to receive a call.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: TCPA applies

          "That's not the case here in the UK however."

          In most cases around the world, clearing your voicemail comes off your call allowance and as such _is_ charged (if you go over your allowance it starts costing real money, vs being part of your monthly charge.

          That includes the UK.

          The thing is, unless it's a scam call they're advertising for someone. That's _why_ the TCPA allows victims to go after the advertiser as well as the company they hired to do the advertising. Follow the money.

  12. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Why not just boycott the company providing whatever. They're the real scum, offloading the telephone calls to India so their hands are clean. If someone phones up offering you a credit card from XYZ, blab all over the internet about how scummy XYZ are. The only way to get their attention about how unethical their marketing dept. is, is through loss of sales or existing customers.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "The only way to get their attention about how unethical their marketing dept. is, is through loss of sales or existing customers."

      Or thousands of actions in small claims courts across the country - the death of one million paper cuts.

      That's one of the primary reasons _why_ the TCPA has statutory damages and a right of private action.

      Lest anyone in the UK raise the tired old objection "it'll swamp small claims courts!" - if there are that many illegal calls then the problem is already of a scam where Ofcom and the ICO should be levying millions in fins each week, so they've obviously failed. (The other part being, that like what happened with the TCPA, illegal marketing calls will drop in level by 99.9% overnight. If USAians think it's bad now, imagine if you didn't have the TCPA from 1991 onwards)

  13. Lazy Jack
    WTF?

    Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

    Why would any sane person need a voice mail? I have disabled it like 10 years ago. There was just absolutely no reason to keep it. There are dozens of ways to reach a person via phone, all kinds of messaging, heck even Facebook Messenger, if you are too old.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

      So there you are driving along and your mobile rings. For some reason the hands free does not work and ... you lose the call. So with you that's it.. With Voicemail, at least the caller has a chance to leave you a message without reverting to all those other mediums you mention for which they might not have your details.

      What is it to be eh? Lose the call and all possibility of a big order/contract or let it go to VM so that at least you can call them back and explain that you were driving and that it wasn't safe to take the call?

      Please tell me now why VM is not needed?

      1. Lazy Jack

        Re: Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

        If it is really important, they will call back. Or you will call back them. Or if you are really a super important person, then you already have an assistant to pick up the phone.

      2. Louis Schreurs BEng

        Re: Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

        So there you are driving along and your mobile rings

        Even if you have hands free, me thinks you are a .... to be drivin' and phonin'.

        Oh yeah, so important to get that order, the punter will go to another seller IMMEDIATELY after you did not pick up the phone.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

      1) People may call you from a phone which have no SMS capabilities, not every company issue mobile phones to every employee.

      2) The VM message may be all you need, no further call required.

      3) People may want to avoid to call you over and over, just leave a message about why they're calling you, and if and when you can call them back

      4) Not everybody knows all your handles to messaging apps, nor track what messaging apps you're actually using, nor they may be allowed to use the same apps your using.

      For example, while I'm flying I could be unreachable for several hours. A VM message is quite fine instead o n attempted calls. Moreover my old parents have issues even in sending SMS, VM messages are far simpler for them if they want me to know something ASAP.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Voice mail? Are we still in the 20th Centrury?

      "Why would any sane person need a voice mail?"

      We don't. It was sold by mobile phone companies in response to fixed line telcos having them over a barrel and demanding 99% call termination rates(*) - which is obviously impossible considering that they don't get half that level on landline side.

      (*) "Call termination" in telco parlance means the other side answered. Cleardown is a hangup.

      On the other hand, voice mail turns the "demand" to speak to you around into a "I'll get back when I feel like it" - but that's countered by callerID meaning you can choose who you talk to anyway.

      Back in the 1950s my grandfather used to simply answer the phone, say "We're busy, call back later" and hang up.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We need a hashtag!

    Tweet the cell co. and demand they don't allow this kind of crap! Start with the guy in the magenta t-shirt who is always talking about being the uncarrier or something. If that doesn't work set up a bot to tweet bomb them so they'll have to employ all the vm spammers just to keep up with their twaddle feed!

    #keepyourspamoutofmyvoicemailyoufilthypigs!

  15. Bucky 2

    Well, they wouldn't call unless some people give them money.

    How about a law that if a person engages with a telemarketer, then that person's phone is taken away, and they're held for psychiatric evaluation for not less than 6 months?

  16. DrM
    Devil

    JFC

    Schumer and I agree on an issue? OMG, have my thoughts become confused? How can this be?

    http://flashbangschumer.com/

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