When the National Do Not Call list was first introduced in 2003, most companies abided by the rules. That meant you’d finally get some relief from those pesky phone calls that always seemed to interrupt dinner. Not so much now.

Plus: FCC proposes $120M fine in robocall scheme. (See details below.)

At least it was nice while it lasted. Because these days, it’s just not that easy.

It was around the year 2010 when telemarketing calls became more of a nuisance, even if you were positive your number was registered on the Do Not Call list.

But even as a member of the list, it doesn’t always guarantee you’re not going to get a strange number lighting up your phone to inform you that you’ve won a free cruise or have been selected to for some “unique” opportunity.

Why Did It Stop Working?

While the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act says the list is still effective for some phone numbers, it won’t prevent calls that are coming in from other countries. Around 2010, when the internet allowed people to make international calls at an astounding low rate, many phone spammers looked at this as an opportunity to relocate outside of the United States. By using voice-over-internet protocol technology, calling with prerecorded messages became not only easy, but cheap.

Then there’s “call spoofing,”where telemarketers input fake caller ID numbers to make you think they’re calling from somewhere here in the U.S. They’ve even found ways to input your local area code, leading you to believe you’re getting a call from someone familiar.

So while the Do Not Call list is effective for law-abiding businesses within the U.S., it isn’t so helpful when it comes to the clever phone scammers that are located in other countries.

“It’s difficult to identify who’s actually placing the call because of the call spoofing,” Maureen Mahoney, a public policy fellow for Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign, told Mental Floss. “So that also makes it difficult to track these people down.”

Authorities do eventually catch up with some of the foreign telemarketing operations, but a lot of times the money they’ve scammed from consumers has long been spent.

In turn, American consumers have lost billions to phone scams. Yes, billions.

Companies such as Time Warner, AT&T and T-Mobile are now offering their customers a service to help block these annoying calls, but many companies say they don’t have the resources available to provide their customers with such a service or charge an extra fee.

So What’s Next?

The next time an unknown number comes up on your caller ID, don’t answer it.

  • $120 million fine proposed for travel-deal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $120 million fine for a scheme that appeared to trick consumers into buying vacation packages that were not what they had expected.

The agency said Thursday that Miami resident Adrian Abramovich, through his companies, made calls that were faked to appear as though they were from the same area code as the people who were dialed. That local touch could persuade more people to pick up the phone.

People who did answer the phone heard a recording saying they could get a vacation package from well-known travel companies like Marriott, Expedia, Hilton and TripAdvisor. Instead, they got transferred to a call center where salespeople pushed low-quality travel deals, often related to timeshares, that were unaffiliated with the brands in the prerecorded message at the start of the call.

The agency said Abramovich’s companies made nearly 97 million robocalls from October-December 2016, and were spewing out “mass-robocalling” operations in both 2015 and 2016. The agency said these calls also interfered with a hospital paging service by slowing down its network.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that the $120 million penalty is the largest in the agency’s history.

The AP was not immediately able to reach Abramovich.