Make 'em pay: It's time to get tough on telemarketers again

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If you're one of the 84 million residential phone customers with a traditional landline, chances are you've noticed that robocalls are back.

Yet you've done everything possible to avoid them. You've registered your number with the national Do Not Call Registry. You've pleaded with telemarketers to remove your contact info. You ignore the ringing phone or check caller ID, but robocallers are relentless.

The Do Not Call list was created nearly a decade ago because marketers got out of control. Once Congress responded with new guidelines for the industry, the number of unwanted calls plummeted. Only charities and political parties were exempt.

At the heart of the legislation was a requirement that telemarketers respect the will of those who registered their numbers for no sales calls. Phone solicitors are supposed to check the list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission every 31 days for numbers that are off limits.

The Associated Press reports, however, that the number of companies that regularly check the FTC list dropped from 65,000 in 2007 to 34,000 last year. This trend is going in the wrong direction as demonstrated by the jump in consumer complaints.

The brazenness of the telemarketers demonstrates that some consider paying fines just part of the cost of doing business. Unless the penalties are raised to levels that truly hurt the bottom line of the companies, the calls will continue. Going back to the bad old days isn't an option.

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