Arm Yourself Against Spam and Robocalls

Arm Yourself Against Spam and Robocalls

Ever since 2018, there has been a resurgence in robocalls. Morning, noon, and night, landlines and cell phones are ringing with unknown and unwanted calls, even for those of us who’ve opted in to the National Do Not Call Registry.

A robocall is a phone call that uses a computerized auto dialer to deliver a pre-recorded message. Spam calls are irrelevant and inappropriate calls sent to many recipients who have not expressed interest in hearing from the company or organization.

In 2019, in the United States, 58.5 billion robocalls were placed, up 22% from the year before. In March 2020 alone, Americans collectively received 3.3 billion spam and robocalls. As of early December 2020, 38 billion of these annoying calls had been placed, less than 2019 figures, yet still equating to almost 120 calls per person.

It should come as no surprise that unwanted calls are the top complaint received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The number of complaints to the FCC about such calls went from 150,000 in 2016 to 232,000 reported in 2018.

A December 2020 Forbes article stated that spam and robocalls are part of a much larger consumer privacy management issue that allows companies to “mine and monetize” our personal information.

In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) initiated the National Do Not Call Registry. The goal was to discourage telemarketers from contacting consumers with unwanted product and service pitches. Everyone with a cell or landline could add their phone numbers to this list. For a while, calls declined as reputable companies paid heed to this new rule.

The FTC continues to inform companies that disregard the list to ‘cease and desist’ and has filed lawsuits against companies that continue to disobey. Many of these calls originate from outside the United States, making them much harder to trace and take action.

Not all of the calls we receive are illegal. Calls from any company attempting to sell anything are not legal unless we’ve permitted them to contact us. And, we very well may have opted into accepting calls without even knowing.

For example, if you recently purchased a large ticket item, such as a car, buried in the myriad of paperwork you signed could be that opt-in clause. Companies can continue to contact you for these types of calls unless you specifically ask them to stop.

There are also spam/phishing calls, all of which are illegal. They are attempting to gain access to personal information for nefarious purposes.

Other types of calls that are considered legal include:

  • Appointment reminders
  • Airline flight updates
  • Charities
  • Healthcare providers
  • Debt collectors
  • Political candidates
  • Surveys
  • Public service announcements
  • Emergency announcements

Some of these organizations can overstep the legal boundaries by providing misleading information or misusing/abusing the intended purpose for allowing such contact.

One tactic that is being successfully employed is neighborhood spoofing. This spoofing method uses local area codes and often the first three digits of a phone number. Using this tactic makes us much more likely to answer a call because it is a number that looks familiar.

By the end of June 2021, the FCC will require phone companies to implement caller ID authentication, designed to combat spoofing.

In the meantime, here are some other ways to reduce the number of those bothersome incoming calls.

  • If you don’t recognize a number, don’t answer your phone
  • Don’t return any missed calls from unrecognized numbers
  • If you happen to answer and it is a robocall, hang up without pressing any buttons
  • Report all spam and robocalls to the Do Not Call Registry

Many cell service providers can identify and call out potential spam calls. Depending on the phone and the OS, your phone may be able to auto-block many of these calls. PC Mag has a helpful step-by-step guide.

Here are other steps to take on your cell phone.

  • Register your number on the Do Not Call list
  • Block each number one by one
  • Download a call-blocking app like Hiya, RoboKiller, Nomorobo, or TrueCaller

For those with hardwired or Internet landlines:

  • Ask your provider if they offer anti-spam software or if they can alert you to spam calls
  • If you have a copper line, purchase a hardware call blocker
  • For VoIP (voice over internet protocol) landlines, use a call-blocking app like those listed above help to screen spam calls

The FCC also has a comprehensive list of call blocking apps and procedures. This video is also helpful.

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