They show up uninvited at your home, business, and vehicle on an average of ten times a day. They come from such relatively unknown places as Meadowview and Boones Mill, Virginia; Warsaw, Kentucky; Justin, Texas; and McKenzie, Tennessee. They try to take your personal details, your savings, and computer passwords. We are not talking about a zombie apocalypse but the scourge of robocalls, the lifeblood of the telemarketing industry. The direct marketing and scam pests run right through the Federal Trade Commission’s Do-Not-Call Registry like a hot knife through butter.
And, since Donald Trump, a proponent of multi-level marketing (MLM)—otherwise known as pyramid schemes—became president, the FTC’s regulations and rules on robocalls have been weakened. The Direct Selling Association (DSA), including such pyramid operations as Amway—whose president is the brother-in-law of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—is now writing the FTC’s regulations governing its own industry. Firms subject to federal regulations now control their own regulatory agencies—the Federal Communications Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration—with the FTC being no different.
DSA lobbyists have engineered bills in Congress for the robocallers to largely police themselves, thanks to such shills as Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who is hoping to replace Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), whose cockamamie libertarian views include abhorrence for any regulations that are deemed an infringement on “freedom” of unscrupulous businesses to scam consumers. When Congress voted to establish the Do Not Call Registry in 2003, a present-day critic of Trump, then-Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona, along with his colleague, Ron Paul of Texas, voted to keep the government’s hands off of your intrusive robocallers.
Blackburn and her Tea Party crowd have come up with legislation like the Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act of 2017, which, far from restricting MLM operations, allows them to adhere to their own code of conduct, not one imposed on them by the FTC with the interests of consumers being first and foremost. Trump’s FTC has also permitted the lobbying organization for robocallers, the Professional Association for Consumer Engagement, to effectively neuter the regulations originally imposed by the Do Not Call Registry. With Trump’s budget cuts across the federal government, the FTC’s staff responsible for overseeing the Do Not Call Registry is one part-time employee. One half-time staffer for a nation of nearly 330 million people?
In 2009, the Obama administration tried to outlaw robocalling. However, the stronger legislation had little effect on an industry that was relying more heavily on automated programs, not live humans, to make the bothersome calls. In cases where a human is on the other end of the line, there is a good possibility that he or she is calling from a telemarketing boiler shop in India or the Philippines.
When Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) recognized that robocalling was a national epidemic, she responded by disconnecting her home landline. Collins, so out-of-touch with reality that she fails to understand that many Americans now only use mobile devices, kicked the can down the political road.
Smartphones have the option of blocking unwanted telephone numbers from robocallers. This editor, who has been on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry for a decade, has blocked some 200 such numbers but the calls keep coming. The only antidote is a pro-consumer administration and Congress that will begin raiding telemarketing operations, making arrests, and seizing equipment. Such actions are dead-on-arrival with the likes of Trump, Rand Paul, Marsha Blackburn, and current FTC chairman Joseph Simons in charge.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).