Are Robocalls Getting Worse?
If you feel like you have been getting a lot more automated calls recently, you might be right. More than 5 billion pre-recorded spam calls target American phones each month, and thanks to the affordable (and legal) technology that produces these computer-generated calls, the numbers are going up.
And it's not just about the frequency. It seems like the robocalls are getting more subtle, target-specific, and better at covering their "robo" part, which makes it trickier to recognize them.
What Is Happening?
The increase in robocalls has been spurred by the combination of different factors connected to the development of available, cheap, and easy-to-use massive outreach technologies. Companies have been using the auto-dial software to deliver announcements and information to their clients, without having to mobilize the additional workforce to do it. It can be incredibly inexpensive and simple for anyone to set up an effective robocalling operation, which is an excellent opportunity for scammers.
What’s important to know about the robocall outbreak is that:
- Robocalling is an easy-to-start business
- The legislation is not efficient enough
- The technology for bypassing robocall blockers is advancing
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)—technology allows scammers to auto-dial thousands of phone numbers each day. VoIP uses internet connection, to make simultaneous calls and to play pre-recorded messages if anyone answers those calls.
Robocallers use spoofing software to mask their numbers. They can use either a number from your area or from a well-known company. The technology itself is legal and has legitimate uses like spoofing your private phone to appear like your work number.
Spoofing and VoIP software are inexpensive and don't need high-tech computers or a lot of people to manage it. Setting it up is also pretty straightforward and doesn't require advanced IT knowledge.
A scammer can find anything they need to start auto-dialing people just by googling it.
Agencies Can't Keep Up
Despite all the new rules and initiatives that may help the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) better tackle the robocall operations, Americans are still being massively spammed.
There have been efforts from both commissions to stop robocall scammers, including the TRACED Act, STIR/SHAKEN protocol, and a decision to create a database of phone numbers that can avoid unwanted calls—the Do Not Call Registry. FCC also gave phone companies the ability to block numbers they know are making robocalls using spoofing technology.
But new rules and technologies always take time to fully deploy, and the limitations of the legal system restrict the actions of federal agencies while the scammers are running free.
The Robocall Technology Is Progressing
Some apps manage to get ahead of the spammers. Nomorobo robocall blocking service, for instance, can automatically filter-out calls that are in their blacklist database.
The sudden success of certain apps in preventing scammers from reaching their targets is causing them to call more often. Stronger software is being used that can handle a substantial number of calls, and spoofing is getting more sophisticated.
Are All Robocalls Illegal?
Sometimes these calls are entirely legal, like when you get a call as a reminder about an upcoming appointment. Various institutions use them to make public service announcements or conduct public polls. It is not allowed to make telemarketing robocalls unless the company has your written permission to call you.
Unfortunately, that permission is often unknowingly granted when companies use confusing and long Terms of Service or other agreements.
Here are some examples of automated calls that are allowed, as well as those that are not. The table should help you see the difference between them.
What Are Some Common Robocall Scams?
Using modern technologies and massive outreach software doesn't mean that scammers don't have to get creative to cheat you out of your money or steal your personal information over the phone.
Depending on who they are targeting or when they are conducting the scheme, robocalls can vary and cover an array of topics and tactics.
Here are some quite successful and ongoing robocall scams:
- Utility scams
- Health insurance frauds
- Fake charities robocalls
- IRS robocalls
- Social Security robocalls
National Grid Scam
Reducing or postponing your electricity bill is often used as a pitch in National Grid robocalls. The scammers target people who need help with paying or lowering their bills and trick them into disclosing personal info.
There is a more extreme version of the utility scam, where the pre-recorded message threatens you with a power cutoff if you do not make an immediate payment. Scammers count on their targets being afraid of services shutoff, and they are often right.
What you should know:
National Grid addressed the utility scams issue. They stated that while their employees may call you to inquire about unpaid bills, they will never ask you to make an immediate payment via a gift card, wire transfer, or prepaid credit card. National Grid will leave the method of payment to you.
National Grid employees will know your account number, so if you're doubting the legitimacy of the call, ask the caller to provide the last five digits of your National Grid account number.
Health Insurance Frauds
Health insurance frauds offer affordable healthcare plans and other inexpensive health insurance options. They are particularly active during the open enrollment season.
The scammers behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield robocalls managed to make over one billion spoofed calls during the first four-and-a-half months of 2019, as part of a health insurance marketing scam.
What you should know:
Health insurance companies will not make sales calls to individuals who are not their clients. Blue Cross Blue Shield posted a lengthy statement regarding these fraudulent calls, and a guide on how to recognize healthcare scams and prevent them.
Fake Charity Robocalls
Scammers often pose as charities. Breast cancer robocalls—soliciting donations for the medical care of breast cancer survivors—are especially common.
What you should know:
Charities are legitimate organizations, but you should always do your research online before donating. A legitimate non-profit will have a website with full contact information and an option to donate.
In IRS robocalls, the scammers will claim to call from the IRS, and say that they will file a lawsuit against you for unpaid taxes unless you make a payment immediately through wire transfer or prepaid credit card.
What you should know:
The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers to request personal or financial information. According to the IRS website, if you receive an automated call claiming to be from the IRS, you should hang up. If you are unsure about the amount you might owe, check your tax account information online or review payment options to see the actual amount owed.
Social Security Scams
With Social Security robocalls, you might get a call in which the bot will claim there is a problem with your Social Security account and ask you to verify your personal information. The bots might explain that your Social Security numbers have been linked to criminal activity and therefore suspended, and that you need to confirm your number to reactivate it.
What you should know:
You will not get a call from Social Security unless you have been in contact with the agency before, and those events are rare . Even in exceptional circumstances, Social Security Agency employees will not ask for your Social Security number.
How to Recognize and Block Robocalls
Robocalls may range in style and approaches, but they tend to stick to certain scripts, which can make it easier for you to identify them.
FCC offers a guide on how to recognize and deal with robocalls. Here are some of their tips:
- Scammers will offer you a prize but will ask for money first
- Real law enforcement and federal agencies won't use robocalls to inform you that you will be arrested, fined, or deported if you don't make an instant payment
- State and federal agencies will never ask you to disclose sensitive information—like your Social Security number—over the phone
- Most legitimate businesses will send you written information about their offer before asking you to commit
Recognizing spam calls won't be enough to put an end to the robocall epidemic.
There are several ways to fight back against robocalls, most of them successful up to a point.
One of the first steps would be to check if your number is already on the Do Not Call list.
Do Not Call list is a registry created and managed by the Federal Trade Commission, and it contains the numbers that are not to be called by telemarketers. While there are Do Not Call list exceptions that can still call you, by adding your number to the list, you are making it illegal for most companies to contact you. Although the Registry is far from perfect, the good news is that your entry doesn't expire. It is a one-time action that could help keep some of the spammers away.
Depending on the type of phone you are trying to protect, you can try one of these robocall blocker options:
- Install a call blocking hardware on your landline
- Ask your service provider about call blocking services—usually, they are free for both landlines and cellphones
- Use the call blocking option on your smart device—Android or iOS come with a built-in call blocker
- Use third-party apps to block unwanted calls on your mobile phone
These tools differ in the degree of blocking and protection they offer, but most of them use the blacklist/whitelist arrangement, enabling you to add numbers you'd like to block or receive. Some devices or services may even include a blacklist number database that will automatically filter out known spam numbers. The effectiveness depends on the database accuracy and how often the company updates it.
Blocking Robocalls on Mobile Phones
If you are a cellphone user, downloading a third-party app is the simplest way to stop robocalls. These apps cover a variety of options, from manual blocking to accessing public lists of known spam numbers.
The prices vary, but most apps are available both for Android and iPhone.
|Hiya Caller ID & Block assists you in identifying calls you want to take and blocks the numbers you want to avoid.
Some of the features are:
|TrapCall enables you to know who is behind an anonymous or blocked caller ID, by unmasking hidden callers.
|Nomorobo is an app that offers real-time protection from robocallers, telemarketers, and phone scammers.
The app has a robocall blacklist and can automatically block the call coming from those numbers.
|RoboKiller is an Android and iOS app that automatically blocks over 1.1 million telemarketers and robocalls, even if they are spoofing their numbers.
|The Call Control–Call Blocker is an app that automatically blocks spam calls and allows for specific area code blocking.
The app is available for both Apple and Android devices and is completely free.
Get Revenge on Robocalls With Do Not Pay
- You receive a robocall, and the bot is demanding payment
- Open DoNotPay through the web browser
- Once in the app, locate the Robo Revenge feature and use it to create a free virtual credit card
- Use the data from that fake virtual credit card once the scammers request the payment info
- The scammers will try to charge your card, but DoNotPay will receive their info instead
- Use the app again to generate a letter demanding payment, and if they refuse to pay, you can initiate a robocall lawsuit
Additional Steps to Take to Prevent Robocalls From Getting Worse
You can report robocalls to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and The Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Both agencies have been dealing with robocalls, in collaborative efforts with law enforcement agencies.
The Federal Trade Commission offers a possibility to report unwanted calls online or by contacting them via phone.
- You can use FTC Complaint Assistant to report robocalls or phone scams online
- You can call the FTC at 877-382-4357
The Federal Communications Commission offers a robocall reporting option on their website. The FCC has also designated a phone line for this purpose.
- You can use FCC robocall reporting service to report robocalls or phone scams online
- You can call the FCC at 888-225-5322
Another option to report unsolicited calls is the National Do Not Call Registry. You can file a complaint about unwanted automated calls through the Do Not Call website, even if your number is not registered. The site will instruct you to check the category that best describes what the call was about and report it.
Other Problems DoNotPay Can Help You With
DoNotPay is a powerful tool that can help with a variety of matters, ranging from menial administrative tasks to dealing with big corporations. The app can be accessed in the web browser and will assist you with sorting out the following tasks:
- Canceling subscriptions or memberships
- Dealing with bills you are unable to pay for
- Scheduling a DMV appointment fast and easy
- Getting refunds for delayed or canceled flights
- Dealing with issues with credit cards
- Suing people and companies in small claims court
- Disputing traffic tickets
- Jumping the phone queue when getting in touch with customer service reps
- Fighting speeding tickets
- Get revenge on other robocalls
- Contesting parking tickets