AUSTIN (KXAN) – Dan Graham says his phone rings and pings constantly.
“I probably get, in any given day, 10 on average,” said Graham about the number of spam calls and texts he receives. “I counted one day, actually…I got 24 that day.”
He said most come from spoofed phone numbers selling insurance, extending warrantees and offering student loan forgiveness.
He has listed his number on the National Do Not Call Registry (DNC), which was created to stop unwanted sales calls, but he said it didn’t make a difference.
Since he splits his time between Dallas and Austin for work, and travels a lot, it’s not an option for Graham to just ignore all unknown numbers.
“With now two young kids and a wife living in another city, just not answering the phone when I get a strange call is, that’s not an option, particularly because now these guys started spoofing phone numbers,” explained Graham.
“I started pushing back. I would stay on the line until I found the company behind it, then file a BBB complaint. I probably filed over two dozen BBB complaints and got nowhere, just more frustrated,” he said.
Last April, Graham filed his first lawsuit in Travis County against a company violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
“In an effort to address a growing number of telephone marketing calls, Congress enacted in 1991 the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA),” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
It restricts telemarketing calls and the use of autodialed or prerecorded calls or text messages.
In 2012, the FCC said the agency revised the rules to require telemarketers, “(1) to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robocalling them, (2) to no longer allow telemarketers to use an “established business relationship” to avoid getting consent from consumers when their home phones, and (3) to require telemarketers to provide an automated, interactive ‘opt-out’ mechanism during each robocall so consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling.”
“It’s gone from just the calls that are, ‘Hey, we want to sell you a car…we want to sell insurance,’ to text messages that are, I would say, a blatant fraud. ‘You won an iPad,’ or you know, ‘You won an iPhone’ or ‘Your phone’s infected and you need to download this anti-virus software,’ things like that,” he explained.
Graham has filed around 50 small claims cases just in Travis County and several more in North Texas and said he’s collected about $75,000 in settlements.
“We’ve had some that simply say ‘Hey, we don’t really care. We’re gonna keep doing what we want.’ No apology, nothing. We’ve also had another company, this is probably my favorite, we took them to court and they called, their legal counsel called us and said, ‘First of all, thank you. We realize you’re suing us, but we had no idea our marketing affiliates were doing this kind of behavior. We’ve fired them on the spot, we’ve ended the relationship.'”
He said about 10 companies have changed the way they’re handling that kind of marketing.
“I really think the law was written specifically for this kind of situation, when we see that our regulators are overwhelmed, we’re the ones getting the harassment, we can actually stand up and do something about it,” Graham explained.
In a recent report to Congress, the FTC said more than 244 million consumers have placed their phone numbers on the DNC registry over the past two years.
The report also detailed that there were more than five million complaints in 2021 with people overwhelmingly reporting violations from robocalls.
The FTC noted that “Imposter scam and warranty protection scam calls led list of commonly reported call topics.”
Since the pandemic, the FTC explained that the agency has received more than 18,000 COVID-related Do Not Call complaints, according to the report.
The FCC said last March that it has taken aggressive enforcement actions. The agency issued the largest fine in FCC history – a $225 million fine against Texas telemarketers for illegally spoofing approximately 1 billion robocalls to sell short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans.
The agency said the robocalls falsely claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known health insurance companies. Cease-and-desist letters were also delivered to six voice providers that have consistently violated guidelines on the use of autodialed and prerecorded voice message calls.
‘We could make this kind of endless spam unaffordable’
Graham has gotten some relief from the calls and texts after the lawsuits.
“I’ll get to the company’s line and the company will say ‘You know, you have been blocked,’ and so I’ve gotten a lot of that. I’ve even had the telemarketer get back on the line and say ‘Hmm, it looks like you you’ve been blacklisted,'” he said. “I’ve also seen certain kinds of calls diminish.”
Graham explained anyone getting these calls and texts should report it to the FTC and find out the company behind it, then write reviews and post what happened on social media.
He said Travis County has made the process to file very consumer-friendly and you can do a lot online.
“If people knew how to push back and started doing so, we could make this kind of endless spam unaffordable for the people who do it,” he explained. “The hope is that there’s enough of us who stand up, start pushing back, that it becomes more expensive for companies to negligently hire these telemarketers and participate in these telemarketing practices … more expensive to do that, then the benefit they receive from it.”