Fight Back Against Robocalls
Show those annoying telemarketers and scam artists that you’ve got their number
They interrupt our dinners. They ruin our naps. They pull us out of the shower, dripping wet, to answer them. And they never feel the slightest bit guilty.
Robocalls, those prerecorded pitches for everything from “free” vacations to political candidates, sometimes seem to have turned our own phones against us.
No wonder telemarketing abuses are now the fastest-growing category of consumer complaints in the United States, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators.
Federal and state laws put limits on robocalls, but the rules are frequently ignored. Often that’s because the people behind the calls are scam artists.
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Susan Grant, the CFA’s director of consumer protection and privacy, says phone carriers could be doing more to thwart illegal robocalls, although she doesn’t see the practice ending anytime soon. “It’s just so cheap and easy to do,” she says.
But even if you can’t stop robocalls completely, there are steps you can take to reduce their frequency and protect yourself from the worst of them.
1. Know what’s legal and what’s off limits. The rules on robocalls vary by the type of phone. In the case of mobile phones, a robocaller must obtain your written or oral consent before calling, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says. That applies not just to sales calls but to calls of all types.
With landline phones, the rules are a little looser. Sales calls are forbidden without your written consent, but other kinds are allowed. For example, “informational” calls, such as a recorded message from the drugstore saying it’s time to refill your prescription or calls from your child’s school letting you know that classes have been cancelled, are perfectly legal. So are political calls, calls from charities, and telephone surveys. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gives some other examples of legal and illegal robocalls on its website.
2. File a complaint. If you receive an illegal robocall, consider reporting it. Both the FCC and FTC say they collect complaints to look for patterns of abuse that can lead to an investigation. They don’t take on individual cases, but you may have the satisfaction of helping put a criminal out of business. “If you’re not sure which agency is the right one,” Grant says, “complain to both.”
3. Check out Nomorobo. In 2013, the FTC held a contest for the best technology to stop robocalls. One winner was Nomorobo, a free-to-consumers service that can detect illegal robocalls and cut them off in seconds. At this point, Nomorobo works only with carriers using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology and doesn’t work on traditional landline or mobile phones. If you aren’t sure what type of phone service you have, a quick call to your carrier can tell you whether it’s compatible with Nomorobo.
4. Screen your calls. You may not be able to keep robocallers from ringing your phone, but you can save yourself the trouble of listening to them by using caller ID and an answering machine. Caller ID will usually provide some clues as to who’s calling, including a phone number and sometimes a name, although crooks can also fake that information through a practice called spoofing. If you recognize a legitimate caller, you can pick up (or not) as you wish. Otherwise, let your answering machine handle it. Telemarketers will often give up as soon as an answering machine message comes on.
5. Just hang up. The FTC says that if you get an illegal robocall, hang up right away. If the message offers you the option of speaking to a person or pressing a button to be taken off its calling list, don’t bother. Doing so can lead to even more calls. The FTC has more advice in this video.
Finally, if you’d enjoy fewer human sales calls too, register your home and mobile phone numbers with the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. The registry applies only to sales calls, and companies you’ve done business with recently are still allowed to call you unless you tell them not to. Legitimate organizations should abide by the rules, so if you get a sales pitch from a business you’ve never heard of, consider that a warning that the caller is probably up to no good. Hang up and file a complaint with the National Do Not Call Registry.
If you’re getting repeat phone calls from the same phone number, call your phone company and ask if they can block the number, though keep in mind they may charge a fee.
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