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Telemarketers find new way to target callers through ringless voicemails

We all get them. Robocalls, ringing our phones at all hours of the day. Now, telemarketers are finding a way to slide into our cell phones right under our noses.

Posted: Sep 3, 2019 5:52 PM
Updated: Sep 3, 2019 8:18 PM

We all get them. Robocalls, ringing our phones at all hours of the day. Now, telemarketers are finding a way to slide into our cell phones right under our noses.

Like many of us, Mary-Katherine Mills depends on her cell phone.

"Everything is on this phone, you know? Life 360 is on this phone," she said.

In fact, you could even call it the lifeline between her and her husband.

"He's a truck driver and he had a heart attack in 2015 and because of technology, I was able to call and get help to him and they picked him up at his truck, took him to a hospital in Colorado," she explained.

She also cares for her 80-year-old father, so missing a call is not ideal. This is why she started to have serious concerns about her service a few weeks ago.

"I started noticing that I was getting voicemails, but my phone was not ringing...At first, I thought it was because I was located in a bad cell area, but once I started looking and I would notice that I would have full bars in a great area where I should not lose service," explained Mills. "My phone was not ringing. These voicemails were popping up and they were like drop voicemails into my voicemail box, and they were advertisements for various things."

Those pesky calls Mills describes are ringless voicemails or drop voicemails. They're calls placed directly into a voicemail box, and there's nothing you can do to block them.

"I did download an app to try to stop those calls, but they're still dropping and I'm still getting phone calls," she said.

Regulators are considering whether to ban these messages. Some argue the messages are not as direct as calls and should be exempt from consumer protection laws that ban similar types of telephone marketing. However, a federal district court in Michigan ruled ringless voicemails are subject to the same regulation as calls.

Illegal or not, they're still annoying.

"These bad actors are interrupting my day, your day, everyone," said a Huntsville attorney, Will League. "You wonder, you know, is my child calling sick from school or somebody selling a warranty? (And) We're trying to maintain focus. We're trying to do our jobs for our clients."

League says there are some penalties out there on the civil side, but tracking them down to hold them accountable is nearly impossible.

"Trying to find out who these folks are who's making these calls and who's behind it is a bit of a challenge. Once they start getting hit, they shut down the company, move on to something else. That's really a bob and weave type thing from the telemarketer," he said.

Until stricter regulations can be adopted and imposed, we're left policing our own calls.

"Once I know that it's one of those drop voicemails, I hit delete. I will not listen to it," said Mills.

Just last week, Alabama's attorney general said 12 phone companies are adopting a set of principles to fight illegal robocalls. The principles require companies to better monitor their traffic and identify potential bogus calls.

We've reached out to the attorney general's office to find out if they're addressing the ringless voicemails as well. We're waiting to hear back from them.

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