Government Imposes Over $208 Million In Fines For Robocalls . . . And Collects $6,790.

Like most Americans, my family continues to be deluged with robo calls despite being on the “no call list” for years. The most reason annoying repeat offender has been an “Affordable Healthcare” number that calls repeatedly each day. I have previously written that I fail to see how the federal government cannot stop such companies. The fact is that they can and a recent report explains why they are not. According to the Wall Street Journal, it turns out that under Telephone Consumer Protection Act the Federal Communications Commission has imposed $208.4 million in fines. How much has the government collected? $6,790. You read that right. $6,790. That is just 0.003 percent of the fines.

Under classic deterrence theory, a rational actor in deciding whether to commit a crime will consider the rate of detection and the size of the penalty. As detection falls, penalties can be increased to preserve an ideal level of deterrence. That is shown by the fact that there has a 46 percent increase in robocalls in 2018 alone. 

In this case, the penalty seems nonexistent so the level of detection may matter little. Under the law, all unpaid penalties are handed over to the Justice Department, which has the power to collect the fines. Clearly, this is not working and suggests that direct criminal penalties against individuals may be needed.

There were between 26.3 billion and 48 billion unwanted robocalls made to US mobile phones in 2018 and it is getting worse. It seems like our government is increasingly incapable of performing the simplest of tasks. These numbers have operators who seek contracts and purchases that can be tracked. Yet, millions of Americans have been sold a bill of goods not by marketers but their own government which created a “no call list” as a pretense of enforcement.

33 thoughts on “Government Imposes Over $208 Million In Fines For Robocalls . . . And Collects $6,790.”

  1. When only 0.003% of robocall fines are collected, the immediate question (to me, anyway) is “Cui bono?”

    When a Federal agency is THIS negligent and non-feasant in doing its job, someone must be benefitting and someone else is impeding execution of the law.


  2. Government Imposes Over $208 Million In Fines For Robocalls . . . And Collects $6,790

    Well… well… well… isn’t this special – government has decided to forgo collection of $208 Million In Fines For Robocalls levied upon telemarketers for harassing people with unwanted solicitations.

    Instead government has decided to continue preying on our societies most vulnerable persons by collecting billions of dollars in specious penalties (roughly $4.8 billion dollars 2014-2015) levied in order to coerce them into purchasing bogus health insurance plans that provide very little in terms of actual access to medical care without paying very expensive deductibles.

    Nice government:

    A government of criminals for criminals by criminals

  3. Mostly foreigners with Indian accents calling. I confess I have cussed them out, the last few times we accidentally picked up the phone.

    Call the NSA find out where these cheats and liars are and drone strike them into oblivion!

    Phones are becoming useless for some people they get so many of these.

    1. I don’t have a link handy, but there is on the internet a multi-page list of curse phrases in Hindi, some quite colorful, that you might use when someone from India calls.

  4. American government is of the People, by the People and for the People. Why do the People allow/elect a government that develops a rationale to allow the People to suffer constant inane harassment by frauds and hucksters? Because they care more about “free stuff,” generational welfare, affirmative action privilege, rent control, forced busing, quotas, food stamps, WIC, HAMP, HARP, TANF, unfair “Fair Housing” laws, discriminatory “Non-Discrimination” laws, unconstitutional Obongocare/Medicare/Social Security, etc. than fundamental, serious, good governance which simply facilitates freedom, free enterprise and self-reliance as the “original intent” of the American Founders.

    Democrats and RINOs promise “free stuff” with the singular goal of obtaining power. They have power and they are absolutely corrupt by the benchmark of the “manifest tenor” of the U.S. Constitution which provides maximal freedom to individuals as it severely limits government.

    “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    – Lord Acton

    1. News flash, Mr.-Apologist-for-Unfettered-Capitalism:

      These robocalls (and other unsolicited sales calls) ARE the “free enterprise” you so highly praise.

      And in case you didn’t notice, Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

      Fact is, neither party has put a stop to this “free enterprise” because both are in the pocket of business.

      And perhaps a couple more reasons. Land lines generally get more robocalls than cellphones. It wouldn’t surprise me if not stopping robocalls has been done deliberately, as just one more push to drive landline holdouts to cellphones, so that now EVERYONE has a tracking device they pay for. And since a significant portion of these calls originate in the Third World, and virtually everyone receives them, the NSA can, for almost everyone, also use receipt of calls from these areas as rationale for adding almost all U.S. phone numbers to its surveillance lists.

      1. OMG! You are brilliant. And your debate acumen is exceeded by none; not even Mespo.

        I don’t apologize for free enterprise, I endorse the implementation of the U.S. Constitution and the free enterprise provided therein. How ’bout you, comrade? I don’t use Karl Marx’s term, capitalism, because, under the Constitution, commercial endeavor absolutely is “free enterprise,” as the only limitation placed on the free enterprise of individual Americans is the power of Congress merely to regulate trade, exchange or “…Commerce among the several states…” to preclude any bias or favor by one state over another. Congress has no power, provided by the Constitution, to regulate any aspect of American freedom or free enterprise.

        And I didn’t say in para 2, “Democrats and RINOs…,” right?

        International treaties, extradition comes to mind, have been concluded repeatedly throughout history. China recently agreed to stop fentanyl.

        As an apologist for failed and treasonous communism, your entire communistic American welfare state is unconstitutional. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto 59 years after the adoption of the Constitution because none of the principles of the Communist Manifesto were in the Constitution. Had the principles of the Communist Manifesto been in the Constitution, Karl Marx would have had no reason to write the Communist Manifesto. The principles of the Communist Manifesto were not in the Constitution then and the principles of the Communist Manifesto are not in the Constitution now.

  5. I get at least one “local” call a day about the warranty on my 6 year old car running out. It’s annoying but the caller is gone when I hit the red phone icon. No voice mail set up so that won’t bother me. If they start texting me, I will join Wally’s Brigade in tracking them down.

  6. If the government cannot stop robocalls, then they are not meeting one of my priority needs.

    Keep this in mind when our representatives make the case for increased taxes.

    The FTC and the FCC have their priorities; those priorities are just not the priorities of the taxpayers.

  7. Now there is a public works program that I can really get behind. Hire people to go after robocallers to collect those fines. Call them at their homes multiple times a day. What an excellent idea for a back to work or jobs training program.

  8. The Feds have been too busy witch-hunting Russians to do anything else. Plus, actual work interferes with watching porn at your desk, and going to diversity seminars.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. You’re lucky if that’s working, Mespo. I have that same service and it works at least half the time. But scammers have technology to bypass barriers.

    2. I receive the same ads from constantly changing phone numbers. As soon as I block a number, the ad comes in on another. Congress may not be able to keep up with the technology. The solution may lie in a substantial increase in the penalties. I favor Drawing and Quartering after the second offense.

  9. What I find even more troubling than the robocalls are the companies who sell my personal information. Go ahead and google your own name and see what comes up. Numerous companies providing info about where you live and offering even more info for a fee. Does anyone know of anyway to prevent this? My employer once sent out info telling us that as federal employees, we can demand that our info be removed, but it’s almost pointless because once we refinance or engage in some other financial transaction our personal info will be sold and posted again. Are there any laws preventing this? If not, why? Is it because Congress is in the back pocket of the data broker industry?

  10. My friend at the bowling alley said he got a robo call asking him to order some socks. So he went to the public library and got on a phone there and then ordered a thousand pairs of socks and put in a credit card number used by some business that he knew the number for. A few days later the socks arrived at the library.


    Robocalls for years have managed to catch people at the most inopportune moments, and the shift from landlines to mobile phones hasn’t seemed to prevent all those fake tax collectors and mortgage vendors from calling in. While the law is supposed to prevent unwanted robocallers from reaching your cellphone without your consent, Republicans are supporting what consumer groups describe as a workaround.

    The Republican National Committee is backing a petition that would allow political campaigns and businesses to leave automated messages on your voicemail, without your phone having to ring. Under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked to review ringless voicemail, the proposal would free telemarketers from restrictions that prevent them from robo-calling people’s cellphones without first getting their permission.

    For the RNC, which filed comments in support of the petition to the FCC last week, regulations designed to limit straight-to-voicemail messaging would hinder free speech, and raise constitutional questions about the rights of political organizations. Supporters of so-called ringless voicemail don’t see them as robocalls or “calls” at all. “[D]irect-to-voicemail technology permits a voice message to go directly to the intended recipient’s mobile voicemail via a server-to-server communication, without a call being made to the recipient’s telephone number and without a charge,” wrote the RNC.

    And proponents argue that straight-to-voicemail messages don’t come with the same frustrating dinner-time disruptions that many associate with telemarketing calls.

    But a host of consumer groups see the petition as an intrusive work-around, designed to skirt the law and the requirement to receive a consumers’ consent. “Americans are already fed up with unwanted calls to their cellphones, which have become increasingly common in recent years,” Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst for the advocacy group Consumers Union, said in a statement Thursday. “The FCC shouldn’t make this problem even worse by weakening consumer protections and opening the door to unwanted voicemail messages from telemarketers and debt collectors.”

    Edited from: “Republicans Want To Let Robocallers Spam Your Voicemail”


    This story if from two years ago. Perhaps we can presume Republicans decided to scratch this idea. But it’s odd that Professor Turley is annoyed that ‘government’ can’t get a handle on this issue.

      1. To you these issues are simple Peter, but they aren’t. Political speech was the type of speech most worried about by our founders. I would like to end all robo calling immediately but one cannot draw conclusions without thinking about the potential of unexpected consequences.

        1. Alan, get serious! Republicans would let spammers annoy us even more; all in the name of ‘free-markets’.

          1. Peter, you say that because you are ignorant of those economists and philosophers who wrote about the free market. I am sure things can be done but one has to very careful not to step on free speech, in particular political free speech.

            It is hard to go after those doing the calling because they are spoofing and may not be located in the US, but we could go after the companies that hire them.

  12. The service providers: Phone Companies Can Filter Out Robocalls, They Just Aren’t Doing It

    One of the problems that comes up all the time with tracking down robocallers is “spoofed” numbers — when the info that shows up on your Caller ID has nothing to do with the person calling you. “A robocaller might spoof a random number but when that fake number starts calling 5,000 people in an hour, well, humans don’t call like that”.

    It’s understandable that telecoms would want to remain neutral with regard to call-blocking. By doing nothing, they can avoid the potential problems that could occur when an important, legitimate emergency call gets blocked.

    But a look at the numbers shows that something has to be done to curb these calls. In addition to the huge volume of complaints filed with the government every year, more than 550,000 people have signed on to Consumers Union’s End Robocalls petition asking AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink to give customers the ability to block these calls.

  13. “Americans received over 16 billion robocalls so far this year—here’s how to stop them”

    “The best option may be to download one of the hundreds of robocall-blocking apps on the market. One of the top-rated free apps is Hiya (available for both iPhone and Android phones), which detects incoming spam calls and blocks them based on a database of known spam numbers.

    “Consumer advocates at the National Consumer Law Center recommend Nomorobo, particularly if you get a lot of robocalls on your home phone. Nomorobo is free for landlines but does have a $1.99 monthly subscription fee for the mobile app (available for both iPhone and Android phones).

    “If you don’t mind spending a bit for peace of mind, RoboKiller is a top-rated mobile app that starts at $2.49 per month. This app goes beyond just blocking spam and scam calls: It will also divert suspicious calls and deploy its “answer bots” to keep scammers on the phone and decrease the number of calls they’re able to make. The company claims its app will reduce 90 percent of spam calls you receive within 30 days.”

  14. Thank you, Professor, for the information. Jeeze!
    We never did try to get on a “no call” list, even though it was all the rage with our friends in the 90’s.
    But we figured it was just one more list our phone number would appear on… more “company” that would have our number!
    Plus, it sounded too good to be true.

  15. I have developed an interesting way of handling Robo calls. I use the Internet to track down the company that owns the actual number that is being called from. Since each call is from a different number, it means quite a number of searches. Typically I’ll find a pattern where many of the numbers are owned by one company. I then track down the name of the president of that company and then find the president’s home address.
    Following that I track down the name of the legal counsel for that company. I then send the legal counsel a strongly worded letter demanding that the calls stop immediately or I will take certain actions that will embarrass the president publicly. More precisely, I promise a public demonstration in front of the president’s home, complete with the media and hundreds of people since the media loves this sort of thing.
    The first time I did this I got a letter back from the lawyer stating that the numbers did not belong to their company, that they had sold them to another company, but they would see what they could do. The calls stopped within 36 hours.
    The second time I did this, the volume of calls dropped by about 80% within two days, meaning that I was on two separate call lists from two separate companies.
    To do this work takes a considerable amount of time, but it’s proven to be effective.
    Speaking more directly to the article, it seems that if there is that much fine money outstanding, somebody should make the department of justice an offer to take over those fines and start collecting them. With that kind of money, it wouldn’t take much of a percentage off the top
    to make a lot of money.
    Also, I think that any company that has outstanding fines for robocalling should have its president subject to a prison term for nonpayment. In fact, not just the president, but the chairman of the board as well.

    1. That is a very interesting idea – privatizing fine collection. It could be a very lucrative idea. They could use existing debt collection companies.

      I love your method. My particular problem is that the robocallers display a local number. It is not the actual number they are calling from, and actually belongs to someone else.

      I get 10 of these stupid calls a day. Now I know what the Do Not Call List didn’t help. How much money are we waisting maintaining a Do Not Call database that we aren’t even enforcing?

      1. Yes, they use a local number which is not the actual number they’re calling from. However, it is possible to track down who owns the number, even if it is a spoofed or unused number. Once you determine the telephony company that owns those numbers, you proceed as I suggested.
        it takes a lot of time, and there are a lot of these companies that are bought and sold regularly, so you have to be sure you have the most recent entity. It’s not easy, but it’s proven effective

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