The phone rings. You answer—but no one responds. Before you can hit disconnect, a recorded message begins to play. It informs you that you’ve won a free vacation, have been chosen to test a product, are eligible for a reduction in your credit card interest rate, owe money to the IRS, are in trouble with local law enforcement, or need to call your bank or lender due to a change in your account. But none of these statements are true—they’re just fabrications used as bait in new rip-off scams criminals have hatched to steal your personal or financial information.
Though the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 made robocalls illegal in 2004—the FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from calling a cell phone number with an automatic dialer under any circumstance—the practice is still rampant. And because the numbers these calls come from are usually spoofed—meaning they are fakes or have been stolen from a legitimate organization—they’re difficult for authorities to track.
Fortunately, there are several things you—as a consumer—can do to protect yourself from robocall scams as well as reduce the number of unsolicited marketing calls you receive on your cell phone and landline.
- Register your phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you’ve listed your number, legitimate telemarketers must remove you from their call lists. Exceptions include companies with which you have an existing business relationship, businesses that have received written authorization from you, political organizations, charities and telephone surveys.
- Disconnect as soon as you receive a robocall. The recording may give you the option to press a key to opt out or for transfer to a representative. You may also be given a number to call. Do not do this. If you press a key, the number is logged as working—and the quantity of robocalls you receive will increase. If you call a number given in the recorded message, any individual with whom you speak is likely to be a criminal phishing for your information.
- Block the numbers that robocall you. If you’re being harassed on a landline, you’ll have to call your phone service provider. However, it’s easy to block numbers on most new cell phones—usually by reviewing the call log, selecting the number, and choosing “add to reject list.” This won’t eliminate all calls—scam robocallers change spoofed numbers frequently—but it should offer some relief.
- If you’re unsure about the caller, Google it. Enter any phone number into the Google search bar and—if it has been used for scam robocalls—you’re likely to find that information within the search results. Free websites such as com provide reverse number look-up and allow users to post comments regarding the robocalls associated with any given phone number.
- File a complaint with the FTC. As mentioned previously, most robocall caller ID numbers are spoofed. However, reporting them to the FTC can eventually help to track down violators. You can do this for free when you visit gov/complaint or call 888-382-1222. You can also stay up-to-date on recent robocall and email scams reported to the FTC at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.