JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Is there anything more frustrating than scrambling to answer that call only to hear a prerecorded message on the other end? And some of these recordings are done so cleverly—complete with pauses and voice inflections—it’s quite possible for even the savviest among us to get duped into a short conversation with a machine every now and then.
Automated dialing or robocalls have become the bane of our high-tech connected existence, and the problem is getting worse.
Before passing along some advice on how to combat the scourge, let’s look at how bad it’s gotten and why.
Increasing robocalls: perception or reality?
The FCC and the Federal Trade Commission both cite unwanted and illegal robocalls as their top source of complaints. The FTC received 7.1 million consumer complaints about robocalls in 2017, up from 5.3 million in 2016. The FCC says it gets about 200,000 complaints each year.
The number of robocalls has increased over the years despite over 200 million US consumers having already registered on the Do Not Call Registry.
Call-blocking service YouMail reports 47.8 billion calls were made in the US last year, up 56.8% from 2017. Estimates vary by individual but most of us receive about 10 a month.
The problem is so bad FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in late 2018 demanded the phone industry adopt a robust call authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing and launch that system no later than the end of 2019.
“Combatting illegal robocalls is our top consumer priority at the FCC. That’s why we need call authentication to become a reality—it’s the best way to ensure that consumers can answer their phones with confidence. By [the end of 2019], I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones,” Pai said.
If the trend continues, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be fraudulent by 2020, according to a new report from telecommunications firm First Orion.
Who’s making these calls…aand do they really work?
Hiya, maker of a caller ID app, estimates that 25 percent of all robocalls are scams. That might be lowballing.
YouMail data found that 37 percent of all robocalls were scams related to health insurance, student loans, easy money scams, tax scams, travel scams, business scams and warranty scams. The remaining 60 percent of robocalls were legitimate, including telemarketing calls, reminders and alerts.
They must work on some gullible folks or they wouldn’t be worth the expense, right? AARP reports scammers and spammers spend about $438 million per year on robocalls. But those calls generate more than 20 times that amount in income.
And the scammers are getting trickier. It used to be easier to guess that an incoming call was not a friend or colleague. Area codes from Chicago or Los Angeles when you live in Chugwater, Wyoming are a good indication the cyber-caller is intent on warning you about IRS penalties or ignored jury duty.
Nowadays, ‘neighborhood spoofing’ is a common tactic where fraudsters show up as a local number on your caller ID by matching the first six digits of your number. One study estimates that 9 in 10 scam calls will come from a familiar area code next year.
Are robocalls legal?
Thanks to a federal judge in Wyoming, a ban on robocalls during election season for politicking purposes was struck down as unconstitutional last August 2018. So, expect those calls to ramp up in 2020 in conjunction with the general election.
As far as all other automated calls, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office has this to say:
“Wyoming’s telephone solicitation statutes prohibit most telephone solicitors from calling residential, mobile, or pager numbers that have been enrolled in and appear on the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Telephone Preference Service (TPS) for more than 60 days. Certain calls, including calls made at the request of the person called, made primarily in connection with an existing debt or contract, made to a person with whom the caller has an established business relationship, and those initiated by a merchant making less than 250 unsolicited calls per year are exempt. Most charity and political fundraisers are also exempt.”
How to prevent these calls from coming in
First, get on the Do-Not-Call list. Right now. You must contact DMA and request that your number be included on the TPS list. You can complete the DMA Registration Form or visit DMA’s website to submit your request electronically.
If a telemarketer calls you after you are on the list, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. http://ag.wyo.gov/cpu/telephone-complaint-form
The Federal Trade Commission also maintains a National Do Not Call List, which is separate from Wyoming’s Do-Not-Call List. You can register for the FTC’s Do Not Call List by visiting www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222. If you receive calls from telemarketers after being enrolled on the National Do Not Call List for at least 30 days, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting its website linked here.
Other useful tips offered by Sid Kircheimer in the AARP October newsletter include:
- Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is a real person, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
- Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month. Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month—or for free in the case of YouMail.
- To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.
- A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges.
- Here’s the starter kit for turning on Do Not Disturb on the iPhone and Android:
- With the iPhone it’s a snap. Go to Settings, then tap on “Do Not Disturb” then select “Allow Calls From” then “All Contacts.”
- On Android 9 “Pie,” Go to “Sound” then turn on “Do Not Disturb.” Like the iPhone, you can set exceptions for things like Contacts.