Breaking News Emails
It was 3 a.m. when the phone rang.
But it wasn't an emergency — it was a robocall, and it enraged one resident of Marietta, Pennsylvania, enough to fire off a profane complaint to the Federal Communications Commission.
"Someone should shoot these a**holes," that robocall recipient wrote.
Both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission receive a mind-boggling number of complaints monthly from Americans who can't stand the growing scourge of scam calls. Last year, the FCC received 232,000 complaints regarding unwanted calls like robocalls and telemarketing offers, while the FTC received more than 3.7 million robocall complaints alone. For both agencies, these complaints are the most frequent ones they receive.
Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from NBC News, the FCC provided roughly 200 lightly redacted complaints — all from May 1 and with the names of the filers redacted — that highlight just how fed up Americans are with the scam calls and how badly they want the government to take action against the perpetrators.
One individual from Denver described receiving daily calls from an organization identifying itself as the "Health Enrollment Center," calling from a different number each time.
"DEMAND the FCC do something about this," the person wrote. "It is harassment we are compelled to endure in order to own a phone. DO SOMETHING!"
Both federal agencies and lawmakers are trying. On Thursday, the Senate passed the TRACED Act, 97 to 1. That bill would push major telecom companies to better authenticate calls while also increasing penalties and fines that the FCC can levy for violations. In the House, legislative efforts are underway to combat "spoofing," in which scammers trick a caller ID into believing that a call is coming from the recipient's area code.
Technological improvements have allowed for robocallers to target thousands of phones an hour with minimal effort. According to Hiya, a Seattle-based software company, Americans received a total of 26.3 billion robocalls in 2018, a 46 percent increase from 18 billion in 2017.
Many of the people who complained to the FCC on May 1 outlined a nationwide scam involving Social Security numbers. According to the complaints, robocallers almost uniformly claimed that the person's Social Security number was suspended and he or she needed to take action to reactivate it. (Social Security numbers are never suspended.)
One person in Burlington, Vermont, wrote that a robocaller left a voicemail saying "my social security number was in danger of being 'suspended.'"
"They said I needed to call a 'federal agent' immediately at the above number this needs to be stopped!!" the Green Mountain State resident added.
A New York City resident, meanwhile, wrote to the FCC about a call he received regarding "a discrepancy in his ConEd charges." The person called Con Edison, a company that provides electricity, power and steam to New York City and Westchester. The company told the person it would never make such a call.
"Please investigate!" the city dweller wrote. "I have for a long time now been on the Do Not Call Registry, thought I suspect spammers ignore it. Again please shut down this illegal operation."
Other complaints detailed repeated calls.
"This number started calling me early and called every few minutes," a Woodbine, Maryland, resident wrote. "They called about 10 times today. The harassment of telemarketing is out of control, and most every call I receive now till marketing. When will something be done?"
That same person filed another complaint minutes later.
"This is nuts!" the person wrote.
In Bayonne, New Jersey, one person complained about receiving spoofed calls "every day."
"Almost always the same voice selling something different," the person wrote. "If the voice is the same, surely the company doing this is the same. Track them down and SHUT THEM DOWN."
Some people went to great lengths to try and protect themselves from future scams, detailing just how problematic the calls can be.
"I am getting phone calls and text messages from people trying to buy my property," one person from Tolleson, Arizona, wrote. "Not only am I getting them, but my family members are being contacted about my property as well. I've removed all of their information from all 3 credit bureaus, I've contacted the Clerks office and County recorders office. I'm not sure where to go from here, but these calls have got to stop. They are harassing me and my family."
Sometimes, there are human beings on the other end of the line, according to the complaints. Someone in Niantic, Connecticut, reported a flood of calls from people claiming to be Microsoft support agents between April 29 and May 1.
A resident of Bridgewater, New Jersey, said one would-be scammer became upset when confronted.
"THIS CALL VIOLATED THE “DO NOT CALL” RULES FOR OUR PERSONAL/RESIDENTIAL PHONE NUMBER," the person wrote. "I pressed '1' to speak with a representative and the rep indicated he was from VISA CARD SERVICES."
"The company name he said he worked for didn’t match the Caller ID and I don’t have a credit card from Chase bank, so I told him that I knew the call was a SCAM, that the call was spoofing another company’s number and to NOT CALL AGAIN," the writer added. "The rep immediately became upset and wanted to argue with me, so I hung up. PLEASE BLOCK THIS SLEAZY CALLING TEAM."
Meanwhile, whether the calls come from humans or robots, many are not well-targeted, as one Lancaster, Pennsylvania, woman revealed.
"I LOVE this one," she wrote in her complaint. "For erectile dysfunction. (I'm a single woman.) Smack my head."