Ringless Robocalls — A Sneaky Threat
Robocalls have been plaguing the nation for a while now, and they don’t seem to be slowing down. This situation is provoking outrage among the general public, and Americans are less and less likely to answer calls from unknown numbers. Both spam and scam robocallers are constantly on the lookout for novel ways to reach new targets, so they use spoofing—a technology that allows the scammers to use phone numbers that are not theirs. Sometimes they even manage to spoof the numbers of your friends and family, businesses, or government organizations. The goal is to trick you into picking up.
Federal regulators, like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), are trying hard to develop new methods to fight the onslaught of robocalls. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 helped with varying degrees of success, mostly because it can’t do anything about robocalls originating overseas. As the legislation grew tighter, robocallers got more creative and started using ringless robocalls.
What Is a Ringless Robocall?
Robocallers tried to use the grey area in the current federal legislation, claiming that they are not making phone calls by definition, so they don’t fall under the TCPA rules. The logic behind this argument is simple—they use technology that delivers a pre-recorded voicemail directly to your voicemail inbox without ringing your phone. You won’t be bothered, and there might be only an occasional missed call notification on your screen. You can choose when and where and if you want to listen to your voicemails.
Ringless robocalls seem like a lesser evil compared to your phone being besieged by incoming calls, but many people raised their voices in alarm. Having your voicemail overfilled with unregulated telemarketers’ offers or even dangerous phone scams doesn’t sound like a good deal. It is even more worrying when you find out that Americans lose around $9 billion in total per year due to telephone scams.
Are Ringless Robocalls Just Annoying Spam or a Dangerous Scam?
Ringless robocalls can be both. Just like regular robocalls, the ringless pre-recorded voicemails can be used for different purposes. They were created to convey some important but not urgent information from doctors’ offices, schools, or churches, without inconveniencing you with an actual call. Soon after, they became weapons of aggressive marketing and new tools for telephone fraud.
Spam Ringless Robocalls
A ringless robocall can be considered spam if it is not illegal per se, no matter how inconvenient or annoying. Spam voicemails will just advertise a product and push you to buy it. They will often leave a call-back number so you can get more information or finalize a purchase. Besides telemarketers, any information that you deem irrelevant, and which is delivered via ringless voicemails, can be considered spam as well.
Scam Ringless Robocalls
Scammy ringless robocalls differ in the content of their pre-recorded voicemails. Still, their goal is always the same—to get your confidential information, most likely your credit card details, through fraud. One of the most common ringless robocall scams is the “free vacation” type. A voicemail in your inbox says that you won a free trip, but you need to call them back and verify your credit card details. Once you do, no confirmation comes in, and there is no telling how big the financial damage might be.
Other Popular Ringless Robocall Scams
Besides a promise of a free trip, some of the other popular ringless robocall scams are:
- Credit card debt—these voicemails promise they can help you get out of your credit card debt faster for a small fee or some down payment
- The IRS—these voicemails impersonate IRS representatives claiming you owe taxes and asking for wire transfers or credit card details
- Loans—these voicemails sound like debt collectors asking to call them back with your credit card information or promising they can secure lower interest rates
- Political—these voicemails range from a promise of a government grant to asking for donations for suspicious political campaigns
- Bank problems—these voicemails impersonate your bank’s representatives, usually trying to scare you by mentioning unauthorized holds and asking for confidential information to deal with the problem
- Nigerian prince—these voicemails sound like they come from an alleged Nigerian royal family member who will reward you if you can help him access his funds
Some of these scenarios might sound too ridiculous, but they can do serious financial damage. Not only do senior citizens, who are lonely or fighting Alzheimer’s, fall for them, but also university students and anyone sensitive about their financial situation or a relationship with the government fall prey to these scams.
How Can You Know if the Ringless Robocall Is Legal?
More likely than not, the ringless robocall you received in your voicemail inbox is illegal. When ringless voicemails became popular, and people started voicing their protest, a marketing company called All About the Message initiated a petition in 2017 to exempt ringless voicemails from the TCPA and FCC’s methods of suppressing robocalls. All About the Message claimed that ringless robocalls don’t count as calls because they go straight to voicemail.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act doesn’t allow non-emergency calls that use pre-recorded messages, autodialers, or artificial voices unless the person being called consents before the call. Because of that, marketing companies wanted to bypass the Act and use ringless robocalls as a tool to reach potential customers across the U.S. The petition was withdrawn the same year before the official FCC ruling. In 2018, a federal judge finalized this debate by ruling that ringless voicemails are subject to the TCPA in Saunders v. Dyck-O’Neal, Inc.
Which Ringless Robocalls Are Allowed?
Since ringless robocalls fall under the FCC and the FTC regulations, anyone contacting you via direct calls or voicemails or via a live representative or a pre-recorded message is not allowed to do so unless you provide them with your consent beforehand. This ruling puts most ringless voicemails on the other side of the law, but there are still many examples where ringless robocalls are allowed or even useful:
- Health care provider voicemails—they usually want to remind you about a prescription or a doctor’s appointment
- Debt collection voicemails—they usually remind you about some real debt, and they are only informational
- Charity voicemails—they can be left only to charity members or previous donors
- Political voicemails—they come from legitimate political organization and only serve to convey information about, for example, an ongoing campaign
- Other informational voicemails—they are usually announcements, reminders or notifications and cannot include any sales pitches
Even if the callers have your consent, the ringless voicemails still have to follow several rules to be deemed legal:
- They cannot be left in your inbox if your number is on the Do Not Call list
- They cannot be delivered from a spoofed number
- They must offer an option to unsubscribe from such voicemails
- They cannot be sent before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
How to Spot a Ringless Robocall Scam?
The easiest way to know that a pre-recorded voicemail in your inbox is a scam is if it asks for your personal information. That might be your credit card, your Social Security number, but also your address or your spoken consent. The whole spiel is meant to persuade you or scare you into sharing such details that scammers can use to impersonate you or abuse your finances. Legal robocalls serve only to provide information, not ask for it.
Another detail that might help you recognize a phone scam is the lack of written documentation. If the legitimate organization of any sort contacts you via phone and requires your response, this will be generally supplemented with some sort of written confirmation or proof. If there is no mention of it or your request to receive paperwork in snail mail gets ignored, it’s a good sign that people behind the robocall are scammers.
Besides this, scam ringless voicemails try to create a sense of urgency. You have to call them back right away, or you must provide your information immediately. This is also a red flag since legal ringless voicemails are supposed to be informational and not play on strong emotions like fear and anxiety.
For more information on how to recognize this threat, check out the FCC guide to robocalls.
How Can the FTC Help You Fight Ringless Robocalls?
The Federal Trade Commission constantly works on improving its methods in the long fight against robocalls of all kinds. Besides introducing legislation and working closely with law enforcement, they try to provide more and more tools and information on how to stop robocalls or at least minimize them. The three key steps that have been identified as the best strategy to reduce the onslaught of robocalls for the general population are:
- Hang up
While the first step is an excellent piece of advice when you receive an actual call, it isn’t applicable when it comes to ringless robocalls. Instead, you can stop listening to the robocall voicemail as soon as you realize what it is and delete it from your inbox. The other two steps are more useful in this case.
How to Block Unwanted Ringless Robocalls?
Blocking unsolicited ringless robocalls works with a varying degree of success, depending on the method you use. Most people use built-in options in their phones, call blocking services provided by their carrier, or third-party robocall blockers—all of which are explained in more detail below. When it comes to FTC’s help with robocall blocking, your best bet is the national Do Not Call list. This is how it works:
- Open your browser and visit the Do Not Call website
- Check if your number is already on the Do Not Call list
- If the FTC doesn’t have your number, click on Register your Phone Number, and follow the on-screen instructions
The process is fast and free of charge. While this is not a literal call blocking service, it should diminish the number of unwanted calls and voicemails from various sources. At least, it strengthens your claim in court if you decide to pursue a robocall lawsuit. Once you put your number on the Do Not Call list, the registration doesn’t expire, but this list is not all-powerful. You can still be contacted in some instances, even though you registered your number, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the Do Not Call list exceptions.
How to Report Annoying and Dangerous Ringless Robocalls?
Another useful thing that the FTC can help you with is reporting numbers that leave those ringless voicemails or the numbers that potential scammers want you to dial back. To report this kind of robocalls:
- Go to the Do Not Call website
- This time, choose the option Report Unwanted Calls
- Leave the number related to that annoying or shady voicemail from your inbox
By doing so, you will be helping out your entire community because the FTC and law enforcement use these lists to investigate and eliminate unsolicited phone activity.
What Can You Do About Ringless Robocalls on Your Smartphone?
Smartphone users can employ the built-in call blocking features of their respective operating systems, but those have a significant shortcoming—they are meant to work on actual calls and not on voicemails. Both iPhones and Android phones have options to block individual numbers or all unknown numbers and forward them automatically to your voicemail. These two options can be good solutions for stopping your phone from ringing all the time, but when voicemails are the actual enemy, those tools can’t do much.
Google Pixel phones have a new feature where Google Assistant picks up the calls for you and transcribes the conversation as it happens. This allows you to recognize whether the call is a scam and then answer or hang up. If you choose to hang up, the call won’t go to voicemail. It sounds like a nifty feature, but again, it might not work for ringless robocalls that jump straight into your voicemail inbox.
Ringless Robocall Blocking Apps for iOS and Android
As the technology used by robocallers improves, so do various call-blocking apps. There are many smartphone applications on the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store that are advertised as call blockers, but you have to be careful about what you install as you will have to grant them access to a lot of information on your phone. Besides, due to limitations that are imposed on apps by iOS and Android, most applications won’t be able to stop the calls from going to voicemail.
This table might offer a better overview of the benefits and shortcomings of most popular robocall blocking software for your phone.
|One of the few apps that block calls from going to voicemail||Voicemail blocking is not available for iOS users, but all spam voicemails are sent directly to the Blocked Messages folder||Free basic service / Premium $19.99 per year|
|Hiya||Partners with carriers and smartphone makers to offer caller profile solutions and spam protection||Doesn’t offer voicemail blocking|
7-day free trial, then $14.99 per year
|Large crowd-sourced database||Doesn’t offer voicemail blocking; Privacy infringement concerns|
Free basic service / Premium $29.99 per year
How Can Your Carrier Help You with Ringless Robocalls?
Since ringless robocalls use the technology that jumps straight to your voicemail inbox, which is hosted by your carrier, the most effective protection should come from your phone service provider. While the most popular phone carriers across the United States do offer some amount of protection against unsolicited calls, their solutions are not always up-to-date to meet the challenges of modern scam technologies.
Here’s the overview of how your carrier might aid you in your fight against robocall scams:
|There is no option to block local number spoofing|
Basic Call Protect service is free; Call Protect Plus costs $3.99 per month
|No options to block known spam calls or prevent them from going to voicemail||$2.99 per month|
|T-Mobile||No category or neighborhood spoofing blocking options|
Free, but Scam Block needs to be activated manually
|No protection from spam filling up your inbox|
Free; Call Filter Plus costs $2.99 per month
What Can DoNotPay Do About Ringless Robocalls?
While we can’t stop these pesky ringless robocalls from taking up your voicemail inbox space, we can help you serve up some cold robocall revenge and earn money while doing it! So far, there is no such thing as foolproof protection against this autodialer pest. Fortunately, with RoboRevenge, DoNotPay’s new feature, you can easily file a lawsuit against illegal ringless robocalls and get up to $3,000 for that annoying voicemail. Here’s what you should do to get that nice fat check:
- You get a scammy voicemail telling you to call them back immediately because you owe them money or to collect your prize or whatever the scenario
- At some point, your credit card details will be requested, and this is where you get them with the help of our virtual credit card
- To get it, open DoNotPay in your web browser or on your iPhone
- Find the RoboRevenge option and create your free virtual credit card by following easy instructions
- Give the scammers your new virtual credit card information since it is not connected to your actual bank account
- When they try to make a transaction, our app will get their information and help you initiate the lawsuit and get closer to that $3,000 compensation!
One thing to have in mind—this process will work only for the voicemails and robocalls placed from within the United States, as it’s impossible to get the location of overseas callers.
How Else Can DoNotPay Make Your Life Easier?
Do you need help with paying your bills? Wouldn’t it be great to find a way to lower your bills? We know that the answer to these questions is Yes. DoNotPay can help you with that and with so much more. All you have to do is open DoNotPay in your web browser or get the iPhone app, choose one of the items from the list below, and make your life easier in an instant. Take a look at what else DoNotPay can do for you:
- Appeal parking tickets
- Contest traffic tickets
- Get a refund for a delayed or canceled flight
- Deal with bills you are unable to pay
- Make a DMV appointment with no trouble
- Jump the phone queue when getting in touch with customer service reps
- Solve issues with credit cards
- Cancel subscriptions or memberships
- Challenge speeding tickets
- Get revenge on other robocalls
- File lawsuits against people and businesses in small claims court