BBB Tips: How to Spot and Stop Robocalls

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If you’ve received a lot of robocalls calls recently, you’re not alone. Nearly 2.4 billion robocalls are made every month, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The number has increased significantly in the past few years because internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls and display fake caller ID information.

What’s a Robocall?

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.  Calls use a computerized autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message to a home landline or wireless number.  Many different scams use robocalls, from bogus companies claiming to lower utility bills or credit card rates, government grants, vacation packages and calls from individuals posing as IRS agents.

What types of robocalls are allowed?

In the United States, recorded messages regarding candidates running for office or charities asking for donations are allowed. Messages that are solely informational, for example, a reminder from your doctor’s office, are permitted. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the organizations make the calls themselves.

How do I know if a robocall is illegal?

In the US, an immediate red flag is if the recording is trying to sell you something. If the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal.

A telemarketer must have your written consent, whether through paper or electronic means, to receive a call or message. Simply buying a product, or contacting a business with a question, does not give them legal permission to call you. The new rules also require telemarketers to allow you to opt out of receiving additional telemarketing robocalls immediately during a prerecorded telemarketing call through an automated menu.

How to avoid robocall scams:

  • Use Caller ID to screen calls. Consider not answering unfamiliar numbers. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message, and you can call back. But also know that you can’t always believe your caller ID. Scammers can spoof the phone numbers and names of legitimate companies on Caller ID. This lends credibility to their pitches.  If you never opted into receiving calls from a company, hang up and report the number to the Do Not Call Registry.
  • Just hang up: If you answer a robocall, ignore recorded prompts to press digits on your telephone keypad to be taken off their calling list. If you press a key, it tells the scammers you have an active number. Your number will then be sold to other telemarketers and the frequency of calls will increase.
  • Get onto the Do Not Call Registry. You will receive fewer marketing calls and make it easier to identify the fraudulent ones. In the US, you can call 888-382-1222 or register online at donotcall.gov.

What you can do to stop robocalls:

Consumers can help the government combat robocall scams by reporting the calls they receive.

The FTC has brought more than a hundred lawsuits against over 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other Do Not Call violations. There are harsh penalties for sellers and telemarketers who break the rules.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission initiative provides telecommunications companies and other partners with known robocallers’ telephone numbers every day.  The FTC collects scammers’ telephone numbers from consumer complaints, and the more consumers who report numbers, the faster it can develop its blacklist database. Report a scam call here.  In Canada, residents can also report illegal robocalls. Go to the National Do Not Call list to file a complaint.

Consumers can also report robocalls to bbb.org/scamtracker. BBB shares Scam Tracker information with government and law enforcement agencies, so every piece of information is helpful in tracking down scammers.

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