There may be little more universally annoying than the unexpected phone call, cloaked in the familiar area code and exchange, that comes as one is reclining with a book, laying the supper table, or working at the office. Yet, come it does, always at an inopportune time. Often, we take the call, no matter the inconvenience, because we’re just not certain it isn’t important. And it almost never is.
It seems almost always to be an aggravating robocall, the handiwork of tricky telemarketers and survey-takers who have finessed a system for making the incoming call appear to be local. There’s even a name for the tactic: “neighborhood spoofing.”
Most of us respond with a quick hangup and a resolve to send the next unknown caller to voicemail.
A different course is being charted by a 21-year-old college student from Pennsylvania who is evolving as something as a professional plaintiff. Andrew Perrong of Huntingdon, Pa., who studies philosophy and psychology at Catholic University of America and who intends to be a Ukrainian Catholic priest, has filed dozens of lawsuits against companies large and small. And he’s won, securing settlements again and again, according to court records.
Mr. Perrong has remained mum on his enterprise, declining requests for interviews because of confidentiality agreements and other pending litigation.
But his efforts have been documented in the public domain of the courtroom.
While it is true that some may be inclined to bemoan the litigiousness of American society, it’s difficult not to applaud this full frontal attack on an abuse of a person’s right to be free from the interruption of a phone call.
Statistics collected by YouMail, which analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service, show that the frequency of automated calls has ballooned, reaching some 3.4 billion in April. That’s an increase of about 900 million the previous April. This year, through September, there were 33 billion calls. The commensurately increasing aggravation has sparked the U.S. House and Senate to hold hearings. Federal regulators have looked at the issue. State attorneys general have initiated inquiries. The Federal Trade Commission received on average 375,000 robocall complaints per month last year and the commission has filed suit, as well.
Mr. Perrong is taking a more individual and direct approach, taking companies to court.
He’s made settlements with firms as big and well-known as Verizon and as small as a local chimney sweep. He filed his first case when he was a high school senior. And he appears to generally represent himself — without a lawyer.
The crux of his legal argument rests in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which virtually restricts calls from autodialers or those with artificial or prerecorded voices.
Some see Mr. Perrong’s efforts as lawsuit abuse. But we see it as citizen activism. ID spoofing isn’t just annoying. It’s deceptive. And if a person has registered his phone on the FTC’s “do not call” list, it’s illegal. If Mr. Perrong is playing the system, he’s torn a page from the playbook of the robocallers and it serves them right.
The FTC “do not call” registry can be accessed at donotcall.gov, and it is for both cell phones and landlines. To register by phone, the number is 1-888-382-1222. The FTC accepts complaints about scammers that disregard the registry.
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