The office of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt recently released a list of the top 10 consumer complaints from 2021, and it depicts that Missouri residents have a major lack of understanding about the subject of unwanted phone calls.

Of the 126,100 total consumer complaints the AG’s office reportedly received in 2021, a whopping 39,244 were regarding “illegal telemarketing calls” and “No-Call violations.” That total was the most by far, as the second-place subject of issues related to retail and wholesale received 1,727 complaints.

Obviously, Missourians are significantly bothered by undesired phone calls, because close to 40,000 of them made the effort to file a complaint last year – almost 40 times as many as the next-biggest gripe. And that makes sense, because nobody likes having that kind of intrusion interrupt a busy day or a period of relaxation.

But here’s the deal: No amount of complaining could ever stop unwanted calls from existing, and No Call lists are nice, but largely ineffective.

That’s because businesses and organizations responsible for the calls aren’t working from material produced in a way most people think they are.

No, they’re not thumbing through phone books to find numbers to call, and they’re not using a list clandestinely compiled by some sleazy organization and then unethically sold without anyone’s permission. What they’re doing is rather simple and easy to understand in today’s world dominated by technology: They’re using a list randomly generated by a computer.

The way it works is pretty basic: After a given three-digit prefix is chosen (like 967 in these parts), the computer generates a bunch of four-digit suffixes to go with it, and presto, you have a call list.

And that’s not even close to a new concept. I have first-hand experience with it, because for almost two years in the 1980s, I worked for a Seattle-based company that surveyed peoples’ radio listening habits. Sitting in a basic, no-frills office, me and a few cohorts would place calls to many far-away places, like Alaska, North Dakota, California and more, and even back then when computers were still pretty new, we worked off of lists that were created electronically.

I can recall on numerous occasions hearing someone on the other end of the line angrily say, “How did you get my number? It’s unlisted!”

Sometimes they would quickly hang up, but other times they would listen to my explanation of how numbers were computer-generated. At that point, some would grunt and hang up, but others would say, “Oh, how interesting. What can I do for you?”

So what exactly can be done to deal with this annoyance? Really, there’s no good solution, other than exercising one’s option to not answer the phone.

Sure, that might sound like an over-simplification, but it’s about all there is.

I don’t like unwanted calls any more than the next person, so I’ve trained myself to utilize caller ID (which is now available to almost every landline or cell phone number without an extra fee) and not to answer if I don’t recognize the incoming number being displayed.

Of course, even that isn’t 100% effective these days. Something I’ve had happen more than once (and has perhaps happened to you) is seeing a number on the caller ID that I do recognize and ending up with a potential scammer on the other end.

Yep, it’s like you see your friend Johnny Smith’s name, answer and say, “Hi Johnny,” only to have a robo-call voice begin its would-be sales pitch. The first time I had that happen, I couldn’t believe it. Now I’ve come to accept it as a constant possibility in this strange day and age.

And keep in mind that there’s probably no need to worry if you don’t answer, because if a call you receive is indeed from someone you know or is otherwise legitimate, the caller will more than likely leave a message (which is also now commonly available without an extra fee).

Anyway, I’m sure Eric Schmitt and other AG’s around the U.S. are OK with fielding unwanted call complaints, because it’s in their job description. But given the chance, they might provide a similar explanation of how not much can be done to curb the frequency of such calls.

It’s just something we have to deal with ourselves.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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