Have you ever received a call from an "unknown" number or one you don’t recognize only to hear a recorded message when you answer? Some common messages include warnings of an expired car warranty, problems with your credit card or requests to redeem a contest prize. These types of calls are called robocalls and they are illegal. Most likely, their pitch is also a scam intended to obtain your personal financial information. Unfortunately, robocalls are also on the rise. According to this Global Robocall Radar Report, global spam calls grew 325 percent from a year ago to 85 billion.
As the number of these calls has multiplied, so have the number of complaints reported to the FTC, state and local law enforcement agencies, and consumer organizations across the country. The reason for the spike in robocalls has to do with technology. Companies are using auto dialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute, for an incredibly low cost. What's important is that the companies that use this technology don't bother to screen for the numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. If a company doesn't care about obeying the law, you can be sure they're trying to scam you.
During the last few years, the FTC has stopped billions of robocalls but tracing these calls is a tough job. Many different companies use the same or very similar recorded messages. Robocallers can also fake the caller ID information that you see on your phone. That's known as Caller ID spoofing and new technology makes it very easy to do. In some cases, the fraudulent telemarketer may want you to think the call is from your bank, or another entity you've done business with. Sometimes, the telephone number may show up as "unknown" or even include several digits from your own number to make it seem familiar enough that you’d want to answer. Other times, the number is a real one belonging to someone who has no idea his or her number is being misused. Robocallers often place the calls through internet technology that hides their location.
What Should You Do If You Get a Robocall?
- Hang up the phone. Don't press 1 to speak to a live operator and don't press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
- Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change. Many smartphones now have the ability to block numbers without contacting your phone provider as well. Verizon recently introduced a free app to help their customers filter and block spam calls. T-Mobile, Google, Sprint and AT&T offer similar services for a small monthly fee. Unfortunately there isn’t much to prevent these calls to traditional land lines in homes but if you have digital phone service in your home, a free service called Nomorobo can help screen robocalls.
- Register your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry. Robocallers tend to ignore this list in violation of the law, but it may help reduce other unwanted telemarketing calls.
- Report your experience to the FTC online or by calling 1-888-382-1222.
- Some prerecorded messages are permitted — for example, messages that are purely informational. That means you may receive calls to let you know your flight’s been cancelled, reminders about an appointment, or messages about a delayed school opening. But the business doing the calling isn’t allowed to promote the sale of any goods or services.
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.