We’ve become used to being on call and available on our smartphones at all hours but when the phone rings just as you are sitting down for a rare family supper, we always experience a momentary ‘This had better be important!’ moment.
And then you hear that dreaded robotic voice congratulating you on winning a prize Himalayan yak, a Caribbean mountain beaver, or something similarly useful.
The mood is spoiled, and your annoyance at the never-ending scam callers may become a threat to your digestive processes.
It’s happening all over the world, but according to the Robocall Index of YouMail, US consumers received an astonishing 4.6 billion robocalls in February 2021.
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What are Robocalls?
If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. Some robocalls are legal. Companies that send you informational messages, political parties, and charities may call you without previous permission. However, any sales pitch turns it into an illegal robocall.
If you do get an illegal robocall, hang up immediately and report it to the FTC. Don’t follow instructions to press numbers as it could lead to more robocalls or permit outrageous subscription charges.
What is the FTC doing about robocalls?
Telemarketers are required to register with the FTC before they may sell goods or services over the phone. The FTC maintains a Do Not Call registry, which telemarketers must download and check against their calling lists numbers. They must remove any number on their calling list that appears in the FTC register.
The FTC enforces adherence by legal means. Hundreds of the companies and people responsible for unwanted calls have thus far paid more than $100 million in judgments. The FTC also pursues research into technology that protects people from illegal robocalls.
It’s call blocking time!
Call blocking is using technology to block unwanted calls before they disturb you. All mobile phones, landlines, and VoIP phones that use the internet each have effective call-blocking options. There is, however, a risk that call-blocking services may block some legitimate calls.
What call blocking options do I have?
1. Register on the National Do Not Call Registry
The National Do Not Call Registry is a resource for the telemarketer industry. It contains a list of numbers which they are not allowed to call. Adding your number to the registry won’t stop all the unwanted calls, but it can make a big dent in the numbers.
It is not a call-blocking service, and telemarketers sometimes don’t care that you are on the Registry and will call anyway. If you do receive an unwanted call even though you are on the registry, chances are that it could be a scammer. Don’t rush to pick up.
The registry won’t stop all unwanted calls. Companies that you deal with on a business level are allowed to call you. Certain types of calls are still allowed even if your number is registered. Political or charitable organizations are allowed to call you, as may debt collectors. Callers may also use your number to provide information (no pitches!) or conduct legitimate surveys.
Companies that call numbers that are on the National Do Not Call Registry, or place an illegal robocall can receive a fine of over $42 000 per individual call.
2. A call blocking-device for your landline
It’s typically a small box that you attach to your house phone. It operates on the same principles as digital call blocking apps, but the user must manually add or update blacklisted numbers.
3. Call blocking apps on a smartphone
Download a trustworthy call blocking app. The app filters all incoming calls by comparing the number to a blacklist database. You can report and block any numbers that slip through the filter.
A word of caution: Don’t download the first app you see in the app store. Be aware that a call blocking app needs access to your contact list, so do some research to ensure that it is not a known contributor to the problem, or worse, contains spyware. CTIA.org lists several accredited call blocking apps.
4. Services provided by your Telco carrier
Most mobile carriers offer limited call blocking options under specific conditions for which you may have to pay a fee. The FCC’s Call Blocking Resources index lists provide extensive information about your options.
Always Report Unwanted Calls to the FTC
Please take a minute to report unwanted calls at donotcall.gov. The FTC gets unbelievable numbers of reports every day and cannot respond to each one, but the law enforcement agencies analyze the data to identify trends and take action against the people responsible for illegal calls and scams.
The typical scammer’s toolbox includes technology to make calls from fake numbers (spoofing) to bypass call blocking tools. Spoofing technology will display a fake number on your phone caller ID to dupe you into answering the call. Thieves often spoof the numbers of government agencies in Social Security number scams.
File a do not call list complaint with the FTC. Report the number that appeared on your caller ID. It may well be a spoofed number, but any information can be helpful to FTC investigators.
What other options do I have to protect myself from unwanted calls?
Illegal telemarketers don’t give a hoot about the FTC’s registry. They obtain their call lists from data brokers who are not too fussy about the origins of their data. Much of this information gets published on the internet, often by people-search sites, where your full digital profile can be bought for a few bucks.
Be proactive. Whenever you have a few spare hours, try to locate another one of the sources of this information. Since the information gets published without your consent, you have the right to request that your name be removed from their database. Contact them and complete the opt-out process.
You’ll need to monitor each site for compliance in the long term, as many of them simply republish the information after a few months. You can use an automated data scrubbing tool to manage this process on your behalf as it tends to be a long, tedious, and very aggravating fight to regain your privacy.