Are robocalls driving you nuts? Here are ways to block and beat them.
Your phone rings. Maybe it’s a number you don’t recognize or maybe it’s a number with the same area code that seems oddly familiar. Either way, you decide to answer only to quickly realize that you’ve been hit by a robocall. If you keep getting these extremely annoying calls, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, The Federal Trade Commission says that Americans are being bombarded with 2.6 billion robocalls a month from callers. This includes debt collectors, cable companies, scams or fake financial services companies. That’s more than seven calls per person. Not only are they annoying, but robocalls can be dangerous and fraudulent, too.
You’re not imagining it. There has been a rise in the dreaded robocall and the scammers have gotten more creative and sophisticated in figuring out ways to trick you. Robocalls are the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC reported that in 2017, consumers filed more than 4.5 million complaints with the commission about robocalls. That ranks as the highest number of complaints in any year. It’s a big increase from the more than 3.4 million complaints consumers filed with the FTC in 2016. The most common topic of these robocalls is debt reduction. Robocalls about vacations and timeshares were the second most common, while ones regarding warranties and protection plans came in third.
What are types of calls you may receive? Some may tell you that you’ve won a free vacation, have been chosen to test out a product, are eligible for lowering your credit card interest rate, owe money to the IRS, are in trouble with local law enforcement and have criminal charges against you, or that you need to call your bank or lender regarding your account. Some of these calls may sound tempting, amusing, scary or even humorous. But none of these statements are true! They’re simply scams used to steal your personal or financial information. With the power of the internet and automation, unfortunately it’s easy for scammers to rapid fire off calls to potential victims.
You may know not to fall for any of these scams. For some unsuspecting individuals, these calls have been dangerous to their financial safety. In fact, fraudsters posing as IRS agents have netted $54 million from unsuspecting victims in the past four years!
The FTC is trying to figure out how to block these calls. Unfortunately, cheap technology allows scammers to place tons of calls from other countries, so it’s hard to put a stop to the call madness. Companies can use software to make millions of calls at very little expense. They need only a few victims to fall prey to their schemes to more than cover their costs. Did you know that robocalls have been illegal since 2009 (unless you have given the company permission to call you), and each illegal call is subject to a $16,000 fine? Even with the legalities and fines, The FTC regulators have had a difficult time enforcing the Do Not Call law to stop illegal robocalls. Even when the federal government has been able to identify robocall scammers, it’s challenging to recover money.
The dreaded IRS Scam: Many robocalls will claim they are the IRS filing a lawsuit against you. In this case, hang up because the IRS will never call you for any legal matter! It’s probably the last thing they’ll do! In one scheme, callers pretending to represent the IRS claim the person answering the phone owes back taxes and threatens them with legal action. The FCC says the scheme has reaped more than $54 million.
Here are some basic robocalling terms that help carriers make distinctions. According to Verizon:
– Robocallers: Automated, prerecorded phone messages. These calls have increased in recent years because technology has made it cheap and easy for robocallers to make calls from anywhere in the world while hiding their identities by displaying fake Caller ID information.
– Spammers: Unwanted callers that may be calling indiscriminately to a large number of recipients; sometimes includes callers to whom you’ve given consent to contact you.
– Fraud calls: An entity likely pretending to be someone they’re not with malicious intent.
– Spoofing: Robocallers use your area code and the first three numbers of your phone number to get you to answer. They can even impersonate your entire phone number.
Are robocalls illegal?
All calls with prerecorded telemarketing sales messages are illegal unless you agreed to be called. Some non-marketing robocalls (such as political and charitable calls to wireline telephones) are authorized by law in most states, even if they are unwanted.
In Massachusetts, state representatives passed a bill to ban robocalls of any kind to cell phones and other electronic devices. The bill still has to go through the senate. Robocall blocking services say Boston is the 36th most robocalled city in the country.
Are you sick of the attempted scams? Although robocalls are hard to stop, fortunately, there are steps you can take to stop at least some of these calls and to protect yourself from automated scams targeting your phone number. Here’s what you can do to stop robocalls from coming in and how to protect yourself if you receive a robocall with some help from The Washington Post:
- Don’t answer. Simply put, don’t pick up calls from numbers you don’t know. It may be a little more challenging than that not to pick up but try to avoid any number you’re not familiar with. You could even set your cellphone so that it doesn’t ring if the call is from an anonymous number or a number that’s not in your address book.
- Don’t press any buttons. Don’t try to opt out of robocalls by using the call’s phone tree. Basically, if you engage with the robocaller in any way, it lets them know they’ve reached a live phone number. Your number will then be added to an active, hot list of numbers on a rotay.
- Don’t speak. If a robocall asks you questions, don’t answer! For example, some robocallers may ask, “Can you hear me?” If you answer, the scammers may use that to claim that you said yes to their product or service. The caller can gain a voice signature that can later be used to authorize fraudulent charges by telephone.
- Get your number on the Do Not Call list. Your first step is to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, offered by the FTC. Telemarketers are prohibited from using automated dialers to call cellphones or landlines on the list, unless the owners of these numbers give them consent first. Unfortunately, listing your number on this list doesn’t stop all robocalls. That’s because many of the companies or scammers behind these calls won’t hesitate to ignore Federal Communications Commission regulation. At least legitimate telemarketers won’t call you.
- Complain. If you receive a robocall, the FTC asks that you file a complaint online or by calling 888-382-1222. The agency chooses which robocallers to go after partly based on these complaints.
- Sign the petition. Consumers Union is gathering signatures to pressure phone companies to be more aggressive about blocking robo-callers. Almost 750,000 consumers have joined the campaign.
- Turn to technology. Download apps such as Truecaller, RoboKiller, Mr. Number, Nomorobo and Hiya, which will block the calls. YouMail will stop your phone from ringing with calls from suspected robocallers and deliver a message that your number is out of service. Also, phone companies, such as T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T, also have tools to combat robocalls. They work by blocking calls from numbers known to be problematic.
In summary, the very best way to handle annoying robocalls is to never, ever engage with them. Robocallers can’t scam you if you don’t answer. Tip: If you hear a moment of silence when you pick up the phone, that’s a good indication you are receiving a robocall.
If you have questions, you can contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling the Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm.