Herman: Texas, land of the robocall

Howdy. Let’s play Jeopardy. The answer is: 3,403,384,000.

For those of you who have trouble with big numbers, I’ll repeat that in words: Three billion four hundred three million, three hundred eighty-four thousand.

For those of you who have trouble with big numbers and lots of words, I’ll shorthand it this way: A lot. A whole lot.

So what’s the question that matches that answer?

A. How many times do Longhorn fans second-guess a Tom Herman decision during one quarter of one football game?

B. During a routine week, how many times does Ken Herman get emails from readers asking if he really gets paid to write this stuff?

C. How many grains of sand are in 1 cubic inch of sand?

D. How many robocalls were placed to Texas area codes in 2017?

Staggeringly, it’s D. More than 3 billion robocalls, some legal, some not. And that’s a minimum.

Me my ownself, I received several million of those calls. I’m intentionally not on the Do Not Call list. I like robocalls. But I’m not regular.

“According to the YouMail Robocall Index, which tracks the volume and extent of robocalls in the United States, more than 3,403,384,000 robocalls were made to Texas area codes in 2017, making Texas the most robocalled state in the nation,” says the National Consumer Law Center.

We’re No. 1!

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Why? Well, there are a lot of us, and, advanced society that we are, many Texans have discovered the modern and affordable convenience of telephony. And though there are more of them, we’re friendlier than Californians. So some of us are nice to robocallers, even when caller ID says the call is from Lampasas and the caller’s accent is distinctly not.

I get lots of robocalls from nice folks (or recordings of nice folks) concerned about my health insurance and vehicle warranties. Others inquire about whether I have a home security system.

Hmm. A stranger asking if I have a home security system. You at least could get out and do the legwork if you’re casing my block. I tell them I have a home security system. They ask me what kind. I say, “Glock.” They hang up on me. They always hang up on me.

I like chatting with robocallers toward the goal of tying them up so it’s possible somebody else won’t get a call from them during the caller’s work shift. You’re welcome. I do, however, feel bad that I’m hassling people who are just reading a script and who hate their job and might, at that moment, hate their life.

So I try to get to a supervisor. Somehow, I tend to have less sympathy for supervisors.

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The National Consumer Law Center report was issued in conjunction with a March 23 forum, organized by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, entitled “Fighting the Scourge of Illegal Robocalls.”

Yes, robocalls can be interruptingly annoying. But I’m not sure they’d make a top-10 scourges list. They’re somewhere behind the scourge of gasoline priced in impossible-to-pay increments. Go buy one gallon and tell me what happens when you try to pay the posted price and whether it involves cutting a penny into 10 equal parts.

So why so many robocalls? The answer is the same as it is to many questions: They wouldn’t exist if they didn’t pay off.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Ditto for those emails purporting to be from a close friend stranded in Manila who needs you to make a quick transfer to her bank account. (And if she’s really in Manila, maybe she can answer this question that’s long perplexed humankind: Why are people from the Philippines called Filipinos?)

In the FTC’s recent “Biennial Report to Congress,” the agency reported 4.5 million complaints in 2017, up from 3.4 million in 2016. About 559,000 Texans complained about illegal robocalls in 2017.

The National Consumer Law Center claims mass robocallers are seeking to gut protections against such calls. That battle is brewing at the federal level.

The feds are on top of this. The next major FTC event is the April 23 “Stop Illegal Robocalls Expo” in D.C., at which the agency will showcase “innovative technologies, devices and applications that will improve consumers’ daily lives by combating illegal robocalls.”

A Glock exhibit might prove interesting.

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