Phone Scams: Stopping Robocalls
Unsolicited phone calls have always been annoying, but the market has gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years—and don’t always involve a person on the other end of the line. Robocalls—autodialed calls with prerecorded messages (or even texts) that you didn’t ask for—can be an occasional annoyance or a constant intrusion. Here’s what you need to know.
How Can They Do This?
Companies that subject us to robocalls use autodialers to call even thousands of phone numbers at once. In some cases, they’ve gathered or bought targeted lists of names and phone numbers, but at other times the calls are just running through sequences of phone numbers with no targeting in mind.
This behavior isn’t new, because unsolicited calls have overall been successful in bilking tens of millions of dollars from consumers. And with new tools, scammers are finding it easier to cover their tracks as the FTC tries to hunt them down. Minimal investment can generate millions, so unsuspecting phone call recipients suffer.
Is It Legal?
Unless you’ve given clear prior consent, it is illegal to robocall you. Callers also must give you a way to opt out, and must state clearly who they are and provide their number and address.
Anyone who has received a robocall knows that usually none of these criteria are met.
There are legal robocalls for landlines/VOIP: emergency or informational calls, opted-in school notifications, political calls, market research, and some nonprofit contacts. (On mobile, only emergency or opted-in calls are permitted.) Usually these will be interactions the consumer is familiar with or expects, but even some legitimate calls in this category can make it difficult to tell if the organization is on the up-and-up, or is another scammer.
Watch Out for Scams
Phone scams aim at stealing your money, and some use very sophisticated technology behind their seemingly “low-tech” voice messages. Ever heard, “Can you hear me ok?” Such calls can be designed to get you to say “yes” so that your “consent” can later be taken out of context and used against you. Threats from the IRS, free vacations or prizes, fake charity fundraisers, credit card account alerts, and car warranty offers can catch consumers off guard.
Stopping Robocalls—or at Least Their Power
Honestly, it’s tough to completely remove robocalls from reaching you, while still allowing legitimate calls through. But there are several important steps and actions you can take to prevent further problems, and at least reduce robocalls—and strip them of their power.
- Add your phone number to the Do Not Call list. Scammers and unscrupulous marketers may not respect this list, but it at least cuts down on the “junk” phone calls. You can also use the website to report scammers, and that helps the government in their efforts to track them down.
- If you answer a robocall, do not interact with it. Don’t press any numbers, respond verbally to any questions, or provide any information. Also, resist the urge to respond to any “unsubscribe” instructions. Any actions you may take could help the scammers, whether they’re recording you verbally or just trying to verify your phone number is valid. Hang up and report the call on the Do Not Call site.
- Consider blocking calls. You can block calls directly with your phone service, or you can use a 3rd-party service like Nomorobo.
As long as you have a phone, you’ll likely have to deal with a robocall at some point. But you can reduce the effects and dangers with some know-how and resources.