Robocalls calls have become a plague. It is estimated that Americans alone received more than 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019. While some robotic calls may be from legitimate sources, they can also be scams seeking to deceive or bully people to provide personal information.
Early on, robocalls were easy to detect and ignore because the calls came from an area code you did not recognize. However, the scam has become much more sophisticated with the increase in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) dialing, which makes it relatively easy to “spoof” a phone number so that the caller ID shows a different number than the one actually calling. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to determine what is a robocall, and what is not.
What are robocalls?
A robocall is a phone call where an automatic computer dialer uses a pre-recorded message as if it were from a robot. And until recently, that was exactly it. But now the term “robocall” has simply come to mean an “unwanted call.“ An added problem is that these calls are becoming harder to recognize until you press that green button.
The logic behind robocall is simple. If the call is answered, the number is considered “good“, even if a person does not fall for the scam. Next time, they will try again because they know there is someone on the other side who is a potential victim of fraud. The less calls answered, the fewer calls received in the future.
Robocall comes in many forms. Frequently they will try to sell you a product or prompt you to sign up for a service. And once in a while, they will try to trick you by appearing to represent government agencies. There also are the really insidious ones, who greet you with silence at the other end. This is one of the stages in the scheme where a computer collects information about the person to make a list of possible targets for theft.
So, why is it so hard to stop robocalls? The annoying problem has a simple answer. The Internet has made it cheap and easy to call thousands of numbers at once using an Internet connection instead of a telephone. It is also very easy for someone to spoof the caller ID, making the phone call look legitimate. Some of these illegal calls are even made from abroad, which can make monitoring and enforcement difficult.
There are many ways how a robocall can be spotted. A robotic voice at the other end can claim to represent a company, a government agency or a bank. The message can offer a free holiday, cheap insurance or a low-interest loan. They could claim you won the lottery. It also may prompt you to press a certain key to learn more or to remove your number from a call list.
It is important to mention that a great deal of robocalls are legal. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permits them in order to collect certain information for non-commercial purposes, such as elections, political campaigns, outreach by nonprofit groups, and so on.
Here are some ways to recognize a robocall:
- You receive an automated call from a company that you did not give consent to contact you.
- A pre-recorded message instructs you to press “1” or another button to be removed from the call list.
- The message offers goods or services for free or at a suspiciously large discount.
- The notice says you owe taxes or have unpaid bills and could face legal or financial consequences if you do not pay right away.
- The message says you have won a big lottery and tells you to press a key or call the number to collect your prize.
- The caller says you are specially selected for an offer.
- You are told you will get a free bonus if you buy their product.
- The caller proposes a low risk investment deal and offers a higher return than you can get anywhere else.
- The caller says you have to make an immediate decision.
If by chance you do get call and suspect it could be a scam, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recommends asking yourself these questions to help determine if the call is a scam or not:
Who is calling, and why? The law requires telemarketers, at the beginning of the call, to inform you that this is a sales call, and provide information such as the name of the seller and what they are selling. If you do not hear this information, just hang up.
What is the hurry? Most legitimate companies will give you time and written information about the offer before you have to commit to their offer. If a person uses pressure tactics over the phone to force you to say yes, it is most likely a scam.
If it is free, why are they asking me to pay? Always question and challenge the fees you have to pay to redeem a prize or gift.
Why am I confirming my account information, or giving it out? Some scammers may have your billing information before they even call you. And they may try to force you to say yes, so they can say you did approve new or additional charges.
What time is it? The law allows telemarketers to make calls only from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. If the caller disregards this rule, you should say ” no thank you” and hang up.
How to fight robocalls?
Robocalls will not disappear anytime soon. Even if these scams affect only a few people, the minimal cost of making calls for the people behind them is still worth it. It is a constant struggle if this type of call is bothering you round-the-clock. Let us go through a few preventative measures that can really help.
Reject anonymous calls
Most caller ID calls show “blocked”, “unknown” or “private” as their caller ID, and most businesses and individuals have identifiable phone numbers. If you reject those kinds of calls, chances are you can stop all anonymous calls without missing anything important.
Join the National Do Not Call Registry list
Millions rejoiced when the FTC in the USA created the National Non-Calling Registry, and in a perfect scenario, once you register telemarketers will stop calling you. Technically, adding your name to the list makes it illegal for telemarketers to call you. This will not help much, but it will only take 30 seconds, so why not? However, scammers do not follow the rules and they do not care about this list. In addition, it is still wise to register your number as an additional protection against unwanted calls within the United States.
Some phones block robocalls automatically
In addition to ignoring the call, you have the option to block the number or whitelist it. Both Android and iOS offer call blocking options that are controlled directly through the operating system, which you can set to avoid calls. This is a list that you create yourself by adding numbers manually, and it can be helpful if you find that the same number is spamming you over and over again. Any blocked number can be unblocked at any time.
Report robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission collects information about robocalls and analyzes trends, which helps various experts identify illegal callers by patterns. Each report helps authorities gain a more complete picture of what scammers are doing. This data can also help develop call barring solutions and create anti-robocall laws. You can file a complaint on the FTC website.
Use a third-party app
Independent apps offer some tricks, but they are often not effective and can be after your personal data on the phone. Many third-party applications can help block calls and text messages if you are not satisfied with your mobile service provider’s spam-blocking service. Use only trusted apps downloaded from the official Google Play Store or iOS App Store, as you provide access to your contact list and possibly other sensitive information.
Only give out a VoIP number
Another solution is to purchase a VoIP phone number through a service provider such as DIDWW and then route the calls to your cell phone. For example, you can give your real mobile phone number only to friends and family, and your VoIP number to anyone else who needs your contact. With VoIP features, you can send all calls to your voicemail and screen for robocalls.
All in all, this problem is not only annoying, but also a rather poses a serious risk, especially when the amount of robocalls is skyrocketing. The scams, which make up a large portion of robocalls, fool one in ten people, with a total annual cost of billions of dollars. Over the years, Robocalls have stepped up in their game and they find their ways to continue in the light of increased regulation and preventative apps. Currently, the smartest move is to arm yourself with the best tools available until lawmakers and carriers find a solution to close this Pandora’s box.