Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 6, Episode 4 - Robocalls - full transcript

Robocalls are one of the most annoying thing of having a cellphone. Over the recent years these robocalls are increased exponentially because of the advancement of the technology. There ...

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome, welcome, welcome
to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us.

Time for a quick recap of the week.
It was a very busy one abroad,

with North Korea reportedly
planning new missile launches,

Theresa May still trying
to work out the Brexit mess,

and Justin Trudeau up to his cheekbones
in a major scandal.

But I'd like to focus
on what happened this week in Brazil;

a country whose anaconda
don't want none

unless it's a tourist who got
too close to the river.

Carnival wrapped up
in Brazil this week,

and Jair Bolsonaro, their new far-right
leader and sun-dried Frankie Muniz,

got a lot of attention on Wednesday
for an unexpected attack on the event.

The festivities have been
denounced as "debaucherous"

by the President,
who tweeted a video

apparently filmed at
a Carnival event showing

one man urinating on another man
in a sexual act.

We won't show the video.

Oh, you're not, are you?
Well, guess what. We're not afraid.

We are gonna show it to you,
except of course we're not.

What are you cheering for?
No, we're not!

This is HBO.

This company doesn't show
debaucherous sex for the hell of it,

unless a dragon is also there
to make it okay.

That is the clear rule.

What we'll do to give you a sense
of what the video contained,

is utilize the YouTube channel
"Squirting Mustard."

If you're not familiar with it,
and you're not,

it's a series of videos of someone
squirting mustard on objects.

So, to give you a basic idea
of what Bolsonaro tweeted,

it was essentially this.

That's it, and you can picture that in
your head for the rest of the segment,

as well as every time you eat a hot dog
for the rest of your life.

And as if tweeting out a golden shower
video weren't weird enough,

Bolsonaro added the caption...

Which, you know, can do, Jair.

My comment is,
"What the fuck are you doing?"

And my conclusion is,
"You're a terrible president."

Why did Bolsonaro do this?

He may have been angry that many of this
year's Carnival revelers roasted him.

For instance, one city paraded
giant puppets of celebrities,

and Bolsonaro's received
a decidedly mixed reaction,

with crowds not just flipping it off

as it waddled through the streets,

but also pelting it with so much beer,
it needed to be wiped down.

And it is not a great sign when your
puppet is singled out for abuse,

especially when, for some reason,

it's marching in a group that includes
a puppet Michael Jackson.

And how much work must have
gone into that puppet

that they still brought it out
after the documentary?

"Look, I've already sunk
weeks into this.

"The documentary doesn't
tell us anything

"that as a society
we haven't been aware of

"and repressed since 1993.
If you're getting angry now,

"you're either disingenuously
riding the social wave,

or you're incredibly
fucking naive. Carnival!"

But honestly, a more likely reason
for Bolsonaro tweeting that video

was probably an attempt
to change the conversation in Brazil,

because things are not
going well there for him.

He's only been in office
a little over two months,

but his administration's
approval rating is at just 39%.

So he could be trying
to deflect from that

by going back to what he does best:

Engaging in homophobic
cultural bullshit.

It is very much his brand.

And incredibly, despite all the blowback
he got for tweeting the video,

he responded the next day
by tweeting,

"What is a golden shower?"

And you know it has been
a weird, weird week

when the leader of 209 million
people is asking Twitter

a question that you'd expect
Gayle King to be asking R. Kelly.

So meanwhile, back home,
we were all dealing with Donald Trump,

who will one day be remembered
by his great-great grandchildren

as the reason they had to change
their last names.

This week, the Trump TV show
we're all forced to live in

jumped the shark for the 485th time.

The President and First Lady
stopped in Alabama,

where they toured
some of the damage caused

by tornadoes that killed 23 people.

The President also stopping
at a Baptist church,

and that is where he signed
several bibles.

Administration officials say
people there asked him

to autograph the bibles
and that he happily complied.

Of course he did.

I am not remotely surprised
that Trump did that.

I'm just slightly confused as to why
anyone would want him to.

Seeing Trump's autograph on a bible

should be like seeing
a picture of your mom

on the cover
of a "Penthouse" magazine.

It should render
the whole thing useless,

and if you keep reading
after discovering it,

you're going directly to hell.

And look, some people there
clearly wanted his autograph,

and presidents have signed
bibles before.

But Trump didn't just sign the book,
he signed the cover.

And it is weird to sign
the cover of any book,

and weirder still to sign the cover
of The Bible with this signature.

'Cause I don't care what
your name is,

that is not how you sign something.

That's how you test that
your Sharpie

still has ink left
before you sign something.

I know it's easy to make jokes
about how Donald Trump

has no idea what's inside a bible,
but that is only because,

as we learned when
he ran for president,

he really has no idea
what is inside a bible.

You've been talking about how
The Bible is your favorite book.

You said, I think last night in Iowa,
some are surprised by that.

I'm wondering what one or two
of your most favored

bible verses are and why?

I don't want to get into it,
it's very personal.

When I talk about The Bible,
it's very personal, I don't wanna get--

There's no verse that means a lot to you
that you think about or cite?

The Bible means a lot to me,
but I don't wanna get into specifics.

- Even to cite a verse you like?
- No.

You an Old Testament guy
or a New Testament guy?

Probably equal.

Goddamn it, that is funny.
But think about what you're laughing at.

That is a future president joyfully
and transparently lying

about The Bible being his favorite book

and being unable to name
a single passage from it.

Which is amazing, 'cause just try.

"Let there be light."
"Do unto others..."

"God bless us every one."

That's "A Christmas Carol,"
but I think we'd all let him have it.

That exchange is emblematic
of something that happens a lot.

It's Trump being a terrible
human being,

dangerously idiotic, and yet somehow,
undeniably funny.

And it happened again on Wednesday,
when he said this to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

You've really put a big
investment in our country.

We appreciate it very much,
Tim Apple.

Yeah, yeah.
He called him Tim Apple.

Which, yes, yes, it's ridiculous.
But also, of course he did,

'cause as far as Trump knows,
all companies are inherited.

How else would a person
become CEO unless his father,

Fred Apple, had founded
a company using the family name

and eventually handed it off
to his son, Tim Apple?

Isn't that how all businesses work?

But look, that is a funny mistake.

It's also genuinely worrying,
but it is funny.

It's something I think
we all wrestle with at some point.

How can a black-hearted moral vacuum

somehow retain the ability
to make us laugh

in spite of everything
he's said and done?

It's almost impressive. He called
white nationalists "very fine people,"

which is horrifying.

But he also tweeted "hamberders,"
and I'm not saying that

cancels the first one out--
it doesn't--

but it succeeds despite it, which,
in a way, is even more impressive.

Do you know how funny you have to be

to make people laugh
after co-signing on Nazis?

I'll tell you.
You've gotta be "hamberder" funny.

And Trump manages to do this
on a regular basis,

like when he referred to
the Speaker of the House like this.

Nancy Pelosi, or Nancy,
as I call her.

Of course you call her Nancy.
Everyone calls her Nancy.

It's her fucking name!

I don't know if that's a joke or not,

and it doesn't matter
at the end of the day.

'Cause it's moments like these
where the line between

"Donald Trump,
actual President of the US,"

and "Adam Sandler starring
in a '90s comedy with the premise,

"'What if the worst person
in the world was the President?'"

completely disappears. And it somehow
becomes physically confusing.

You can feel your spirit sinking

and your giggles rising
at the exact same time.

Because in the midst
of botching the response

to a devastating hurricane
in Puerto Rico, Trump said this.

This is an island...

surrounded by water.

Big water.
Ocean water.

Oh, fuck you.
You got me again!

You did "big water" as the setup,
and then you drop "ocean water" on me?

A++, you pile of shit.

There are so many moments like that

from the time he walked onto Air Force
One with toilet paper to his shoe

to when he pronounced
regulators, "regul-a-tors,"

like they were some kind
of dinosaur,

to this incredible
foreign policy statement.

China has total respect
for Donald Trump

and for Donald Trump's
very, very large a-brain.

Goddamn it, that is spectacular.
Not only did you refer to yourself

in the third person twice,
but you ended a sentence

in which you're trying to come across
as a statesman with the word "a-brain."

Just imagine if any other
president had done that.

"A house divided cannot

"Mr. Gorbachev,
tear down this a-wall."

"Speak softly and carry
a very large a-stick."

It is the "my wife" cadence,
and he's doing it at the fucking U.N.

I am actively ashamed of how funny
I still find him at times,

and I cannot be alone
in struggling with this.

It's an emotion specific
to the Trump era,

much like that rush
of excitement followed by futility

anytime that he's caught in a lie.

We actually tried to embody that
with our "We Got Him" button,

which summoned a banner
and a dunking tiger.

But when he somehow manages
to make us laugh,

it's a feeling close
to the opposite of that.

Whether he's saying "Tim Apple"

or bragging about being on a first name
basis with Nancy Pelosi,

we have to say, reluctantly,

in spite of ourselves, he got us.

He got us.

He did, he did. He got us.
He got us.

I don't like it either,
but he got us.

To him, I say, check-a-mate,
you fucking monster.

And now this.

And now, Rachael Ray's audience
really likes cheese.

And then finish it off with a nice
drizzle of wine and cheese sauce.

With the cheese literally
coming out the sides. Look at that.

I know!

Who likes cheese balls?
I love cheese balls.

Cheese balls!

Some Parmigiano
or pecorino cheese.

With a lot of Swiss cheese.

Take a piece of provolone cheese

and nest it in the meatball.


How cute is that?

And hello, the cheese,
feta, baby, feta. Whoo!

You need a fair amount
of cheese on top.

- Double the cheese!
- Double cheese!

You want some of this cheese
on the top?

Yes, please!
Gimme some of that cheese.

Oh, more cheese.

Let's add some cheese.
Handful of it.

Parm cheese.



Moving on. Our main story tonight
concerns robocalls,

tied for "most annoying type
of phone call"

with every other type of phone call.

Robocalls are clearly infuriating.

Every one of us has answered our phone
at some point to hear this.

It is urgent that you contact us

concerning your eligibility for lowering
your interest rates.

It was the pause in that last one
that made it a real cliffhanger.

You basically knew where it was going,

but there was a chance they were calling
people to inform them

that the IRS was filing lawsuits
against... Nicolas Cage.

Which you assume is always true,

but a call to confirm every now
and then would be nice.

The point is, everybody is
annoyed by robocalls.

Hatred of them might be
the only thing that

everyone in America agrees on now.

And if you're feeling like you've been
getting more recently, you're right.

Robocalls increased by 57% in 2018
to nearly 50 billion calls,

and it's understandably
pissing people off.

The plague of robocalls
is getting worse.

They're the number one
consumer complaint

to the Federal Communications

which receives more than
200,000 protests a year.

Robocalls make up roughly 60%
of all complaints to the FCC.

60% of all complaints
to the FCC are about robocalls,

so they're definitely aware
of the problem.

It's like the actual tea salon
in Vancouver called Neverland.

By this point, they definitely know
they have a real issue.

The only question is, what the fuck
are they gonna do about it?

The nuisance of robocalls
has gotten to the point where

even local news reports
about them get interrupted.

- What's that? Is that your phone?
- Yeah.

We can't even get through an interview
without an unwanted phone call.

-I'm getting a robocall right now.
-Ugh, there you go.

As I was preparing
this report, I got one.

Because you are qualified
for lower rates.

It is just not often that a news report
gets interrupted

by the subject of that report.

"Is your teenager getting involved
in a strange new sex trend?

"It's called watermeloning,
and it involves--goddamn it.

Can you not do this
somewhere else?"

Let's look at why robocalls are on the
rise and what can be done about them.

Let's start with a basic definition.

Robocalls are any call
where you hear a recording

or a robot voice, or when a machine
automatically dialed your number,

even if there is a real person
on the other end.

While a small percentage
of robocalls may be useful,

calls about things like school closings
or prescription reminders,

the vast majority of them vary from
the irritating to the outright illegal.

And you'd be surprised to know
how many major companies are involved.

A list of top robocallers
includes Capital One,

Comcast, and Wells Fargo;

all of whom use robocalls
to chase debts.

And sometimes they do that a lot,
as this woman can testify.

Lea Bourgeois never suspected

one late mortgage payment
would trigger

what she considers
an avalanche of harassment.

It came and I just--blew me away.

Lea's attorney say they've logged
over 6,000 calls from Wells Fargo

to their client
over the last four years.

Some days, such as in January,

Lea says Wells Fargo rang her
more than 20 times a day.

That's absolutely ridiculous.

What's the point of calling someone
20 times a day to collect a debt?

"This is actually great timing, 'cause
while I couldn't pay you 45 minutes ago,

"a small propeller plane
full of unlaundered drug money

"just crashed into my den.

Thanks so much for the call,
you ravenous ghouls."

But as you undoubtedly know, it is not
just major companies who do this.

Phone calls are so cheap
and the technology so widely available,

that just about anyone has the ability
to place a massive number of calls.

-You created a program on your laptop.

I'm gonna hit a button,
and the calls should start hitting.

All at once.

-This is insane; they're all ringing.

That's both very impressive
and, when you really think about it,

not actually that impressive at all.

It's basically the finale trick from the
world's least amusing birthday magician.

"Ta-da! Wait, nothing?
Well, guess what.

"The Great Laptop-Dini got paid
in advance, so fuck all of you."

And if you're thinking,
"What about the 'do not call' list?"

It still exists, and very occasionally,
a big company like Dish Network

gets fined millions for violating it.

The problem is it only applies to one
particular kind of call, sales calls.

And the list doesn't physically
block companies from calling you;

they're just supposed to check it
before doing so,

and scammers generally ignore it.

First, because they're scammers,

and second, 'cause it's now easy
to conceal their identity

with something called "spoofing."

I'll let Senator Susan Collins

show you how it works
in the most awkward possible way.

My screen is reading
"Internal Revenue Service."

Well, let's see.

Hello, this is Susan Collins.

May I ask who is calling?

Hello, Chairman Collins,
this is Sam Dewey from your staff.

-Are you calling from the IRS?
-No, Senator, I'm actually over here.


Spoofing is actually
the perfect technology

for Susan Collins to be demonstrating.
Think about it:

it's all about pretending to be
one thing

and then disappointing everyone
when you reveal who you actually are.

But despite sounding like
Urban Dictionary slang

for when magicians shoot heroin,
spoofing is undeniably effective.

Robocallers can pretend to be
calling from your area,

increasing the chance
that you will pick up.

And individual scammers can
even pretend to be

someone that you know,
as one reporter found out.

Cybersecurity expert Jim Stickley

sets up his phone to call my mom
posing as me.

Here we go.

- Hi, Jeff.
- Hey, Mom, real quick,

I need your social security number
for some forms.

-Can you help me out?
-For what?

I got this beneficiary form to fill out.
What's your social security number?


Great, thanks a lot, Mom.
Love you.

That was it.
I've got her social security number.

Holy shit. Literally everything
about that was upsetting.

From the fact that Jeff Rossen
had someone scam his own mother

to the fact that she fell for it

to his amazing reaction when he realizes
his mother did something stupid

to his bold choice to broadcast his own
mother's stupidity on national TV

to the fact that this man told another
man's mother that he loves her

to the revelation
that he thinks Rossen

sounds like a middle-aged man
squeezing his own balls

to the fact that Jeff Rossen
could really use a new shirt.

The point is, there's a lot
happening in that clip

and none of it is good.

Also, a quick side note on that:

his mother's social security number
wasn't bleeped to protect her identity.

It had to be censored because it's:

"Fuck shit fuck-cock twat-taint
jizz shit tits."

It wasn't her choice.
It wasn't her choice.

Blame the Social Security

And thanks to all these new tactics,

the onslaught in scam phone calls
is huge, and it's only getting worse.

Next year, some estimates predict

half of all mobile calls
will be scam calls.

Wow. And that is a real problem
for consumers,

because you have to use your phone.

We can't go back to the days where
people shouted their message into a jar

and then mailed it across the country.

That was a terrible system,

as it was only marginally more accurate
than having AT&T now.

Oh! You like that, business daddy?

Johnny's acting up again.
Johnny's acting up.

Oh, I bet I'm gonna get
some spicy jars

in the mail about that.

The point is, what can we do about this?
Well, on a personal level,

you can tell companies
you do business with not to call you.

By law, they're not allowed
to robocall your cell without consent.

But that is where this gets tricky,

because those user agreements
that you agree to--

you know, the ones that
no one has ever read--

they often give companies
consent to robocall you

and can make revoking it
incredibly difficult.

If you're a customer of Credit One Bank
and want them to stop robocalling you,

just take out your user agreement
and turn to page four, section 19-C,

where you'll find that you have
to physically mail them

written notice featuring
your name, mailing address,

and the last four digits of your account
number to this P.O. box in Nevada.

And it makes total sense why
you would opt not to do that.

I would rather receive
1,000 phone calls a day

every day for the rest of my life
than go out and buy a stamp.

I mean, how the fuck
would I even do that?

Do I have to go to a post office,
or can I go to a Walgreens?

And If I can go to a Walgreens,
is it all the Walgreenses or just some?

If it's just some, how do I find out
which ones? Call?

Literally call a place
of business with my telephone

and ask them if they could
sell me a stamp? Then what?

I have to physically walk
to the Walgreens?

Literally, physically walk,
like, with my legs?

Then wait in line and buy the stamp?

What now?
Put it in a mailbox?

Where the fuck am I gonna find
a mailbox?

The only mailboxes I ever see
are those weird boarded-up green ones.

What the fuck are those things,
by the way?

They're spooky,
that's what they are.

It looks like a memorial
of a past mailbox that died in a war.

So now I have to find the one mailbox
in New York City that hasn't

sacrificed its life for this country,
pry open its big, hungry mail mouth,

and shove a stamped envelope
down its dusty throat?

Not gonna happen! I'd rather die
than engage in that nonsense,

and deep down,
I think you fucking know that.

So it is no wonder
that some people choose to

simply mess with robocallers,
as one journalist did

when he noticed the person on
the other end sounded a bit suspicious.

That man is dead now.
She killed him, she stole his skin,

she walks among us,
and she'll kill again.

But as fun as that is, experts advise
you not to engage with robocalls at all.

Don't pick up,
and don't talk if you do answer.

That lets them know
that yours is a live number,

and you'll get robocalled more.

The much bigger point here is,

it should not entirely be up to us
to deal with this bullshit.

The FCC has the authority
to police robocalls.

A few years back,
they put some guardrails in place

with a set of rules
designed to limit them.

As the FCC's former Chair
explained at the time,

they basically followed
a simple principle.

The consumer needs to be
the one who's in charge.

The consumer needs to give consent
that they want to be called,

or if they are called
and haven't given consent,

to remove that consent by saying,

"Don't call me anymore,"
or by calling their phone company

and saying, "I don't wanna get
these calls."

And that sounds completely

but unfortunately, those rules were then
struck down after a trade group sued.

At which point, robocalls
increased significantly.

So, we made real progress toward
addressing a problem, then we blew it.

We basically got
our one-year sobriety chip

then celebrated by drinking
a gallon of Captain Morgan.

Which is not to say
there aren't things the FCC could do.

Unfortunately, their current Chair
is this guy, Ajit Pai.

You've probably seen him on this show
before, alongside his stupid mug.

And by the way...cheers.
Cheers to you.

Now, Pai says a lot
of the right things about this.

He said that robocalls are
"The scourge of civilization."

And he's had a little too much fun

showing how dedicated he is
to tackling this issue.

To borrow from
former President Kennedy:

"Let every robocaller know
whether it wishes us well or ill,

"that we shall pay any price,
bear any burden,

"meet any hardship,
support any solution,

and oppose any bot
to assure the survival..."

"...And the peace
of American consumers."

Uh... It sounds like I may have
just won a cruise.

So if you'll excuse me,
I have to take this call.

But thank you very much,
Mr. Chairman.


Ladies and gentlemen,
that man is a goober.

And Ajit Pai clearly has aspirations
for higher political office,

but I'd argue
that it's not gonna work out.

Because Americans can, have,
and will elect bastards,

morons, blowhards,
crooks, perverts, dipshits,

con men, scumbags, and shitweasels,

but they will never,
ever elect a goober.

But while he talks a good game,
Pai actually opposed

the rules we mentioned earlier

and was happy
when they were overturned.

And since becoming FCC Chair,

he seemed reluctant
to force telecoms to act.

For instance,
he could require them to offer

free call-blocking services
or implement something called

"call authentication," which could
significantly curtail spoofing,

but he hasn't done that.
Instead, he "urged" them to do it.

and while some say that
they are "working on it,"

the fact is, if he had "required" them
to do it from the get-go,

we might have those fixes by now.

Telecom companies
aren't really gonna

listen to you unless
you force them to.

And AT&T isn't gonna listen to you
at all unless you call them on T-Mobile.

Ha! How would they hear you otherwise?

Their call would drop out.
That's right, business daddy.

That's right.
You've inherited a problem child.

Let's dance.
Let's dance, you and I.

But the thing experts are really worried
that Pai might do

is bow to pressure from groups
like telemarketers and banks

and draft a new, narrower definition
of what constitutes "autodialing."

It's technical, but that would basically
limit what would count as a robocall.

And if he does that, it could
have huge consequences.

So, for instance, if Wells Fargo called
your cell phone 6,000 times,

you might no longer be able to sue them
under anti-robocall laws.

And it is safe to assume that
at that point,

robocalls are going to increase
even more.

So if only there was a way to get
the FCC's attention on this issue.

One way to do that
would be if someone had,

I don't know, say the office numbers
of all five FCC Commissioners,

because then you could hypothetically
set up a program to robocall

those numbers every 90 minutes
with a message, say,

I don't know, like this.

That would be really annoying, right?

To get that every 90 minutes,
it would really drive the point home.

And, you know, I guess at this point,

it's probably obvious
what is about to happen here.

Yes, FCC, we meet again,
old friends.

Except this time,
unlike our past encounters,

I don't need to ask hordes of real
people to bombard you with messages,

because with the miracle of robocalling,
I can now do it all by myself.

You see, it turns out
robocalling is so easy,

it only took our tech guy literally
15 minutes to work out how to do it.

So when I press this button, will it
trigger our robocalls to the FCC?

No, no.
That would be too simple.

Instead, behold.


When my finger presses this button,
I will trigger this much larger finger

that will press
a much larger button,

which will trigger our calls
to the FCC.

So, FCC, you know what
you need to do.

And by the way,
if you want to tell us that

you don't consent to be robocalled,
that's no problem.

Just write a certified letter
to the address

we've buried somewhere within
the first chapter of "Moby Dick"

currently scrolling up the screen.

You got that, right?
You got it.

Find the address, write to us,
and we'll stop the calls immediately.

And if you're thinking there should be
a simpler way to opt out, well, no shit.

Okay, there's simply no point
delaying this any longer.

Here goes.

Unleash hell.

It's ringing!

I think it's for you.

That's our show.
Thank you so much for watching.

See you next week.
Good night.

Pick up.
Pick up.