(FOX 13) - They've got your number, whoever they are.
Computer-generated robocalls are worse than ever. The tech company called YouMail has run the numbers and estimates we receive more than a billion unwanted phone calls nationally each month.
"What shocked us is that it's nearly doubled in four months,” Youmail CEO said Alex Quilici.
“And it's now one and a half billion robocalls every month. And growing quickly. That really surprised us."
ROBOCALL INDEX: http://www.youmail.com/phone-lookup/robocall-index/2016/january
YouMail is in a unique position to track robocalls. Because it handles voicemail for seven million consumers, Youmail can easily flag numbers that are dialing faster than a human ever could.
"If we see a number that is, ostensibly, a Verizon cell phone from Miami, but it's calling 100,000 calls an hour, we're pretty sure that's a robocaller,” Quilici said, “And we can block it."
CALL HIM 'GRAHAM BELL'
A FOX 13 viewer inspired us to look into robocalls.
"I just want them to stop calling," he said. The viewer asked us to hide his face and use a different name because robocalls are plaguing his life.
We named him Graham Bell.
"The calls just will not stop," Mr. Bell said. And I don't know what else to do,” he said. ”So that's why we came to you."
Specifically: Mr. Bell is inundated with a very specific credit card offer.
JOIN THE DO NOT CALL LIST: https://www.donotcall.gov/register/reg.aspx
"It’s a woman's recorded message saying, ‘this is your second to last opportunity to take advantage of a credit card reduction.’"
Graham is on the Do Not Call list. And yet, he gets his "second to last opportunity" to refinance almost every single day.
"I got five on my cell phone yesterday," he said. "I think it's harassment because, like i said, they don't stop."
Bell jokes about the absurdity of his of ‘second to last opportunity.’
"If it's my second to last, that means after about 30 or 40 calls, I shouldn't be getting any more calls!"
Robocalls come in many flavors: debt collection, sales pitches, scams. Most are banned; only political calls enjoy a broad exemption. Most legal calls require your consent; but most that ring your handset are unsolicited.
LOCAL AUTO DIALER
The Federal Communications Commission told us some illegal robocalls originated here in Tampa. The FCC recently fined Travel Club Marketing, Inc. $2.96 million dollars for making 185 robocalls.
FCC vs. Travel Club Marketing: https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-imposes-296-million-fine-prerecorded-sales-calls
A man named Okie Miller owns Travel Club Marketing, and is listed in the FCC complaint. When the FCC announced the fine, he claimed I was the first to tell him about the investigation -- which began almost five years ago.
"You have no idea that for the past four years the FCC has been looking into your company for making robocalls,” I asked.
“No, none,” Miller responded.
“They say they've sent you notifications,” I noted.
“I haven't gotten any notifications," he said.
The FCC file tells a different story.
When the feds first warned Travel Club Marketing, Inc. that it could be fined, Miller must have received the notice, because he responded in writing. His 2011 letter requested a reduced punishment because he claimed a multi-million dollar fine would "cause significant harms to our company, including total corporate and financial dissolvement [sic]."
As of this writing, the FCC said Miller's $2.96 million fine remains unpaid and has been sent to federal collections.
CHRISTMAS EVE CALL
Who else makes robocalls? Golden Ticket Getaways.
How do I know? Its computer called me.
Our conversation began with an automated survey about the election. I played along with the 'bot until a human picked up and told me he was part of a well-known company.
LISTEN TO THE FULL CALL HERE:
"We are a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean," said an operator name Don.
He told me I was getting a free cruise.
"I did want to jump back on the line and congratulate you on receiving your free Bahama cruise today," he said.
Golden Ticket Getaways is not part of Royal Caribbean. It's also not scoring well with the Better Business Bureau. It gets an "F."
Whatever Don was trying to sell me might have been legal, but the robocall is questionable at best.
Even though it began with a political survey -- which is allowed by law -- the Federal Trade Commission says disguising a travel offer with a political survey is illegal.
When I explained that I was a news reporter, Don offered a peculiar response.
"You're hysterical Chris, I gotta tell you."
EASILY DONE, HARD TO ENFORCE
YouMail's Alex Quilici is not laughing.
He says federal penalties for robocalls are too lax, at the very same time making robocalls is easier and cheaper than ever.
SUBMIT A ROBOCALL COMPLAINT: https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx
Consider this: some illegal callers can start dialing in bulk with a setup as small as a desktop computer and a phone line. That's it.
"Just ring, ring, ring… somebody picks it up, and there you go: victim number one,” Quilici said. “It doesn't take much to make it pay off."
Since no one in power is aggressively cracking down on robocalls, YouMail created a novel tool that relies on three familiar musical notes – the sound you hear when you dial a non-working number.
THREE MUSICAL NOTES
Youmail offers a free service that replaces ordinary voicemail. When it detects an inbound robocall it plays the three notes.
"We actually play a disconnected number tone,” he said. "At that point they [the robocallers] say, 'hey this number is out of service, it's not good. I'm not going to call it anymore.'"
TRY YOUMAIL “ESSENTIAL” PLAN: http://www.youmail.com
For the moment, sly voicemail might outwit a slick robocaller. But frustrated consumers like Graham Bell want more.
His call is a plea to D.C. Put sharper teeth in federal law to stop the auto-dialed nuisance.
"Either prison time or another real severe penalty for it," he said.