News and Press An Unwelcome Loophole for Robocalls

Few things are more irritating than answering the phone to a recording or getting a text message requesting action or selling unnecessary goods. In most cases, such irritations can be dealt with by hanging up immediately or deleting an offending text. The next step should registering that phone on the government’s do-not-call list at

Now, however, registering to avoid robocalls might not be enough for some cell phone users. Last month Congress quietly approved a way for computerized callers to tap into the cell phones used by millions of people who owe money on government backed loans.

The innocuous-sounding change in the do-not-call law has understandably alarmed those who want to protect cell phone users from irritating robocalls. Tim Marvin, a grass-roots coordinator for Consumers Union, said this change, “starts opening up more and more loopholes” in the law. From debt collection, he said, Congress could soon move on to exemptions for advertising, political messages, pollsters and other computer-generated calling. As the law stands now, such intrusions are banned unless a cell phone owner gives the okay.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and other Democratic members of Congress are concerned that this new, loosely-worded exception to the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act would allow pre-recorded messages to harass millions of people with government-backed loans, including students, veterans, small businesses, farmers, even those with some mortgages. There are also questions about whether this bit of Congressional mischief would allow debt collectors to call relatives or even employers of the debtors about what should be a private matter.

Senator Markey and others are trying to fix the problem by supporting the “HANGUP Act” which would repeal the loophole, hopefully before it takes effect. So far, however, Republicans have failed to get on board.

In the meantime, Senator Markey has also asked the Federal Communications Commission to halt all robocalls to cell phones for debt collection until the commission finalizes its regulations on this matter.

While we’re waiting for Congress to delete this meddling by debt collectors, the FCC should find ways to curb a cell-phone menace that could affect millions of people.