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Published: Monday, 9/24/2012


Make 'em pay

If you're one of the 84 million residential customers in this country who have a traditional land-line telephone, chances are you've noticed that robocalls are back, and are more annoying than ever.

You've done everything to avoid these calls, short of canceling your phone service. You've placed your number in the national "do not call" registry.

You've pleaded with telemarketers to delete your contact information from their data banks. You ignore the ringing phone or check caller ID, but the robocallers are relentless.

The "do not call" list was created nearly a decade ago because marketers had gotten out of control. Despite threats of fines, telemarketing companies are returning to the annoying practices of the past.

When Congress responded previously with legislation and new guidelines for the industry, the number of unwanted calls plummeted. Only charities and political parties were exempt.

At the heart of the law was a requirement that telemarketers respect the will of those who registered their numbers to get no sales calls. Phone solicitors are supposed to check the list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission every month for numbers that are off limits.

But the commission reports that the number of companies that regularly check the list dropped from 65,000 in 2007 to 34,000 last year. This trend is going in the wrong direction, as demonstrated by the dramatic increase in consumer complaints to the FTC.

The brazenness of some telemarketers demonstrates that they consider paying fines part of the cost of doing business. Unless the penalties are raised to levels that truly hurt the bottom line of the companies, the calls will continue.

Going back to the bad old days isn't an option. Make the robocallers pay.

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