If you own a phone, chances are that you’ve been on the receiving end of a robocall. Thanks to cheap Internet calling technology, shady marketers and outright scammers are inundating American consumers with billions of phone calls. Many, if not most, of these calls originate from overseas, though the recipient of a robocall may see a local telephone number on the their Caller ID thanks to so-called “spoofing” technology.
Millions of consumers have taken advantage of the Federal Trade Commission’s ‘Do Not Call Registry’ to avoid telemarketing calls from legitimate telemarketers. Unfortunately, the companies and individuals that are generating the current spate of robocalls have little, if any incentive to abide by the ‘Do Not Call’ rules. Instead, they blast out millions of calls per day, hawking everything from “free” cruises to medical alert devices, credit card interest rate reduction and even refunds from the FTC itself. While many of the companies involved in these scams have been shut down by law enforcement, the problem continues unabated.
The low cost of robocalling and Caller ID spoofing technology means that robocall scammers only need a small fraction of the people they call to respond to the pitch to make money. Even simply responding to the pitch (for example, by pressing “1” to be connected to a live operator) can mark a consumer as someone who may be persuadable by scammers. Lists of “live” numbers (i.e., people who will respond in some way to a robocall) get developed and sold among robocall outfits, which can result in even more robocalls. For more information on how information and money traverses the robocall economy, check out this great infographic from the FTC.
For most consumers, the biggest question about robocalls is “how do I stop them?” Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that will prevent all robocalls. Some telephone carriers offer call blocking technology, and there are third-party devices and apps that can be attached to your home phone or used with your cell phone. However, none of these are perfect. While they may prevent some unwanted calls from ringing, they could also block legitimate phone calls. Additionally, there may be a cost associated with buying the device or using a particular call-blocking service.
For now, the best steps that consumers can take is to get educated about the robocall issue and learn the warning signs to prevent fraud from occurring. Tips include:
- If you answer a robocall, hang up immediately. Don’t press “1” or any other keys to speak to a live operator or to have your number removed from the robocallers list. Chances are that the “live operator” is just a marketer who will pitch you on a shady product or service. If you ask to be taken off the robocaller’s list, chances are they won’t do so.
- If the caller is offering a “free” good or service, chances are that it’s a scam. A “free,” “no cost,” or “no obligation” offer coming via a robocall is almost certainly meant to lure the call recipient into a scam that could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
- Be aware that the number or caller information showing up on Caller ID may not be legitimate. Robocallers are adept at making Caller ID show that the call is coming from a local number, or a known organization such as the local police department, a federal agency, or your bank. If you’re concerned that the caller may be legitimate, hang up, look up the phone number of the bank or other organization on your own (such as via the yellow pages, or the customer service number of a bank statement of debit/credit card) and call that number directly.
- Do not give sensitive personal information out over the phone. This information could include your full name, mailing address, Social Security Number, bank routing number, credit or debit card number, or other types of information about yourself. If someone on the other end of the line asks for this information, simply hang up.
- If you haven’t done so already, add your home and cell phone numbers to the National ‘Do Not Call’ Registry at DoNotCall.gov. If a robocaller sends a sales call to a number that is on the Registry, they’re violating the law.
Report fraudulent robocalls to Fraud.org via our online complaint form or to the Federal Trade Commission. While every complaint doesn’t lead to a conviction, complaints are critical to helping investigators detect patterns in robocalls and track down the scammers.