EVANSVILLE – Robocalls. Loud (and lewd) commercials. And complaints about the presidential election and a Super Bowl halftime show.
Those are just a few of the hundreds of gripes Evansville residents reported to the Federal Communications Commission in the last five years, according to more than 700 pages of complaints the Courier & Press obtained through an open records request.
Ranging from January 2018 to just a few weeks ago, the majority raged against Wi-Fi or cable providers – “our bills keep getting higher and higher!” – while hordes of others branched into stranger territory, tackling everything from Will Smith’s outburst at the Academy Awards to countless problems with scam callers and the limitations of the do-not-call list. Only the residents' zip codes, not their names or addresses, are listed in the records.
Taken together, the complaints present a snapshot of how the world has changed – and hasn't – over the last five years. Here are some highlights.
Many complaints involved a resident reporting some kind of scam – especially “spoofing.”
The act of a scammer manipulating caller ID to show someone else’s phone number was a persistent problem, rendering horror-movie-esque sentences such as “I just received a phone call from my own cell phone number.”
Complainants reported hearing from strangers who claimed they had just called or texted them. And sometimes the accusations were downright harrowing.
“I just got a call from a woman who says that someone using my phone number is texting her grandfather (and) threatening to kill him and sending terrible raunchy pictures,” one person wrote. “She threatened to call the police on me because someone is doing this by spoofing my number.”
Others dealt with robocalls and half-cocked threats. “Rachel from Card Services” was a popular villain, as were people pretending to be officials with the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.
“I received call (sic) … stating Social Security has issued arrest warrant,” one person wrote. “Because I would not give out my SSN, the dude on the phone wound up calling me many sexual names and called me the N-word.”
“This number called with a recorded message (from the IRS) stating that I had ‘four serious allegations’ against me and that the local police would be arresting me soon if I didn't call them back,” another said. “I work for a court so I know this is not true.”
Phones weren't the only source of problems.
A few people complained about TV commercials they found sexually explicit. But another commercial criticism was much more widespread: they’re really, really loud.
Multiple residents over multiple years said they would be forced to crank the volume on their TVs to hear quiet programs, only to have their “ears blown off” once a blaring commercial came on.
And sometimes it caused serious problems. One person said Hulu’s loud commercials bothered their son on the autism spectrum so much that the child became afraid of the TV.
The 2020 presidential election and COVID-19
Complaints about national news coverage was less widespread.
Mentions of the 2020 presidential election only appeared twice, and both erroneously cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s victory. One person wondered why NPR was allowed to call Biden the “president-elect” before states certified their votes, while the other was concerned about potential pandemonium in the streets.
“I would like to know WHY the mainstream media like Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc. are allowed to falsely portray Joe Biden as the President-elect when NONE of the states have certified the votes?” one person wrote on Nov. 9, 2020, six days after the election. “This is careless and if President Trump does win the election this is going to cause WIDESPREAD rioting and civil unrest!”
The biggest world event of the last five years made even less of a dent. COVID-19 was mentioned mostly in passing, and only directly came up once.
“We miss out on part of general hospital (sic) everyday for coronavirus updates,” an angry Evansville resident wrote. “I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL OF GENERAL HOSPITAL! MAKE THE STATIONS AND NETWORKS SHOW THE SCHEDULED SHOWS COMPLETELY FROM START TO FINISH, EVEN IF IT MAKES THE NEXT SHOWS START LATER THAN THEY ARE SCHEDULED!”
The Super Bowl halftime show
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s 14-minute showcase at the 2020 Super Bowl mostly met with critical acclaim. A few Evansville residents, though, felt differently.
Three wrote in that next week to deride the performance as “indecent” and “pornographic.” One of them, however, either suffered from an unfortunate case of autocorrect or found at least one aspect of the show appealing.
“The performance purpose was to excite men!” they wrote. “It was porn with a single redeeming thong. Despicable!”
Amateur radio has been around for more than 100 years and has proven to be popular hobby for countless Americans. But according to the complaints, it’s also caused a few odd problems.
Some Evansville residents reported that amateur frequencies were filling the airwaves with unsanctioned music and profanity – and daring the FCC to do something about it.
Other issues, meanwhile, hit closer to home. One person wrote the FCC twice in the fall of 2018 saying that the frequency of their neighbor’s ham radio had somehow interfered with the lights in their China cabinet.
“They flash on and off every morning and afternoon when he's talking on it,” the person said. “We have talked to him about it, but all he said was that he was legal.”
Another complaint laid out an even more intrusive problem: a person’s neighbor was allegedly having “pornographic conversations” with a woman on his radio and inadvertently leaking the exchanges through the speakers of the complainant’s home computer.
“He has been told about it and (it) still continues,” the person wrote. “I filed the same complaint several years ago about this same person/problem.”
The do-not-call list
Robocallers and scammers are so rampant in the U.S. that Ohio’s attorney general recently compared them to a “plague of locusts.” And according to data from the FCC, Evansville residents bore their fair share of the brunt – both in call and text form.
Dozens of locals who wrote the FCC wondered how this could happen. After all, they were on the Federal Trade Commission’s do-not-call list.
But by the FTC’s own admission, the do-not-call list does little to stop non-legitimate entities looking to steal your money or swipe your identity.
“The FTC does not and cannot block calls,” it wrote in an FAQ. “The registry can’t stop calls from scammers who ignore the registry.”
In July, the federal government announced a series of initiatives that would supposedly slow the river of scam calls that hits Evansville and the U.S. everyday. And for many of the locals who wrote the FCC, it can’t come soon enough.
“(Robocalls have) gotten to the point where if there was emergency with one of my daughters … I might miss an important call,” one person said. “Simply because I refuse to answer my phone if I do not recognize the number or who it is from.”
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Here are Evansville residents' FCC complaints in the last 5 years