What Is the Purpose of Robocalls and How Can You Stop Them?
Robocalls are both annoying and dangerous. With around 65 billion robocalls made in 2019, it’s becoming clear that they are on the rise as well. The concerning fact is that a significant number of Americans stopped answering unknown numbers, so businesses and organizations that use phone calls as a primary means of communication with their clients are experiencing substantial losses.
Various government agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), teamed up with carriers and law-enforcers to fight back robocalls and put an end to the harassment that the U.S. citizens have been exposed to. We can only hope that they will manage to stop robocall scams and restore automated phone calls as a safe way to communicate.
What Is a Robocall?
A robocall is a recorded message delivered in the form of a telephone call. The caller is not a real person, but a machine, and the system uses automatic dialing to reach your number. Most robocallers use real people to record the messages, so hearing a bot voice on the other end of the line is rare.
With human voices and advanced technology, robocalls are sometimes difficult to distinguish from real phone calls. As the call progresses, you will realize that you are talking to a machine, but the point of a robocall is not to last for hours. It’s meant to deliver a message quickly.
The increase in the number of robocalls proves that they are an efficient tool for passing information. With the latest technological developments, setting up a robocall system is relatively easy and quite affordable, so it’s not surprising that many businesses and institutions started using them regularly.
What is the Point of Robocalls, and Are They Legal?
The point of a robocall is to pass information to a significant number of people quickly. Robocalls are entirely legal, so they cannot be banned altogether. Robocall scams are unlawful, and the focus of the FTC and FCC’s fight is on them, as well as on the other spam calls.
Scammy robocalls seem to outnumber the legitimate ones, so people are more reluctant to accept calls from numbers they don’t recognize. This leaves many honest callers in a tight spot because they rely on robocalls as an effective and affordable way to communicate with the public. Most legitimate robocalls come from:
- Physicians and pharmacies
- Educational institutions
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Political campaigns
Pharmacies and Physicians
Healthcare professionals and pharmacies all over the States use robocalls as appointment reminders or notifications that a prescription is waiting for pickup. Robocalls are an affordable yet direct way of communication that saves a lot of time and money on both sides.
With many robocalls proving to be a scam, important calls from healthcare professionals are being ignored in fear that a bot will harass us with suspicious travel or financial-trading offers.
Kindergartens, schools, and campuses use robocalls to announce unexpected closures or sudden changes in their opening times. Since people tend to miss texts or emails quite often, phone calls became useful for conveying urgent messages.
The IRS added robocalls to the list of communication channels they use to contact people. They use automated calls as deadline reminders and for the announcement of policy changes. It’s crucial to point out that robocalls from the IRS will be accompanied by emails and other communication tools that will allow you to check all the information on a written document.
Politicians often use robocalls during their campaigns to reach voters and present their programs. Sometimes, robocalls are used to invite people to vote. A more annoying part of political robocalls is when they are used to conduct surveys. As these calls tend to be annoying, most organizations opted out of such ventures.
When robocalls appeared, charities found an affordable method for broadening the scope of people they could contact and ask for donations. Since call-center can be both pricey and challenging in logistical terms, robocalls allowed better use of funds gathered for noble causes.
What Is the Purpose of Robocall Scams?
The purpose of every robocall scam is to get hold of your money. Robocall scams can aim to obtain your financial data and use it to steal from you, or they can be designed to check whether your number is valid and if you are a convenient target for further spam calls.
Whatever the case is, the callers win. Even if they just need to confirm that the number is active, they can sell your number to fraudulent businesses for thousands of dollars.
Some reports estimate that the amount of money lost in robocall scams reaches tens of billions of dollars, so you should not be surprised that robocalls are becoming such an everyday activity.
Many phone scams deceived people by mimicking legitimate businesses. You can check some of the most popular robocall scams in the table below.
What Will the Robocall Offer?
|Happening before and during the holiday season|
Cheap air tickets and hotel stays
|All year long|
Investments with ridiculously high returns
|During and after natural disasters and public health crises|
A chance to help by giving a donation immediately, but only by passing bank account or credit card details during the call
|Before and during tax season|
A chance to cover back taxes (mainly non-existent) by paying immediately over the phone
How to Recognize a Fraudulent Robocall?
Recognizing a scam robocall became quite challenging, mostly because fraudsters use sophisticated technology and sneaky methods to lure you into their web. Some robocalls are a part of a much more elaborate scheme that is difficult to grasp at the beginning.
If you receive a robocall, look for the following signs that can reveal the caller’s ill intentions:
- The caller offers a one-time offer that will expire by the end of the call
- They ask for an instant response
- They don’t give you the time to consider the proposals or double-check the information
- The caller requires you to reveal sensitive details (bank account or credit card number, Social Security number, etc.) over the phone
- They can’t or won’t provide anything in writing
Robocalls that follow the above pattern are dodgy because every legitimate business would allow you to check all the data before agreeing to anything, and they are aware that passing personal information during a phone call is dangerous.
In case the offer you get on a robocall sounds tempting, and you wish to consider taking it, ask for everything in writing and insist that you need time to think about it. If the caller does not agree, you can be sure that it’s a scam.
Check out the table below to better understand the difference between legitimate and fraudulent robocalls.
Ask for information
Come with written (email or snail mail) documents
|Restricted only to phone calls|
|Don’t require response|
Require immediate action
Do Robocalls Actually Work?
Robocalls work like a charm. The problem is that legitimate robocalls stopped working well because phone scams are so successful. When you think about robocalls, it seems that you would have to be naive to fall for them, but fraudsters use tricks that function flawlessly. Some of the common ones are:
- Spoofing, which allows scammers to mask their number as a local or official number and get you to pick up the phone. With internet-based phones mimicking a number is not complicated. People are much more inclined to answer their phones when they think that the call is coming from their area
- Getting your personal details is relatively easy in the social media age, and scammers do their homework diligently. If a caller knows the names of your family members, the make of your car, or where you work, you are more likely to loosen up and reveal additional information
- Hiding behind official institutions and well-known companies is frequent with robocall scams. The caller may say that they are a representative of your utility provider and that they are calling about unpaid bills or a new deal that you can take
- Calling thousands of people a day allows robocall fraudsters to cast a vast net and wait for the gullible fish to get caught. Even if they manage to trick one out of 100 people, they are still good because the machines don’t get tired, and the operation is quite cheap. Their most significant expense is the Internet bill
Is There a Way to Stop Robocalls?
Robocalls can’t be stopped altogether, but the number of calls you receive can be reduced significantly. With the joint efforts of the FTC and FCC, we can hope that a lot of scammers will be detected and brought to justice in the times to come.
What you should do is protect yourself from robocalls as much as you can and contribute to the fight by helping trace phone numbers, businesses, and individuals that are participating in robocall schemes.
The best course of action is to:
- Activate a service that your phone carrier offers, or install a third-party app that protects from robocalls
- Add a call-blocking device to your home phone
- Report robocalls to the authorities
How to Block Robocalls on Your Cell Phone?
All carriers added robocall blockers to active numbers following the FCC’s instructions. If you are receiving robocalls on your mobile phone, you should contact your telephone service provider and check if the service is activated on your account.
Default tools are free of charge, but for additional protection, you can get a paid version. It should additionally protect you from spam calls. You can check what your carrier offers in the list below:
- AT&T developed Call Protect with a premium version available for $3.99 per month
- T-Mobile offers Scam Block for free, while the premium package costs $4.00 per month
- Verizon added basic Call Filter to all the users, but for a premium version you need to pay $2.99 per month
Spam-blocking tools screen all calls to your number and determine whether it is a potentially fraudulent call. If so, the tool will:
- Block the call
- Redirect the call to voicemail
- Send the call to the missed calls list so that you can check the number there
- Allow the call to ring silently with an alert about potential spam appearing on your screen
Third-Party Apps for Robocall Protection
Most of the third-party apps that serve to protect you against spam calls are designed to work only on your mobile phone. They filter all calls that come your way and block every suspicious call.
If you believe that you need additional call-screening, you can try the services of:
While all of the above are available for Android and iOS, only Nomorobo has a service that can also be used on digital home phones.
How to Stop Robocalls on Your Home Phone?
How to stop robocalls on your home phone is a trickier question. There are two types of home phones that you can have:
- Digital home phones
- Traditional landlines
Digital phones are internet-based, and many tools that your phone carrier offers are available for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) lines. Some third-party apps, like Nomorobo, developed robocall-blocking services that are showing excellent results on digital home phones.
Traditional landlines can be protected with call-blocking devices, which you attach to the phone. With these gadgets you can choose to:
- Compile a blacklist of numbers you want to ban from getting through to you
- Make a whitelist of numbers that can reach you
Whitelist proved to be a more efficient option because it stops spam calls altogether. You should be aware that all unknown numbers, even legitimate ones, won’t be able to get through to you.
Can Reporting Stop Robocalls?
The honest answer is yes, but only in the long run. Reporting a robocall will not immediately stop the scammers from calling you, but it will help the authorities gather information about, track down, and prosecute all fraudulent businesses and individuals.
In the FCC guide to robocalls, all victims of spam-call harassment are advised to take the time to report these disturbing activities to:
- FTC by using the FTC Complaint Assistant
- FCC through the Consumer Complaint Center
- Their phone carrier
Another essential step to take in the fight against robocalls is to register your number on the National Do Not Call List. Although it won’t do much in preventing fraudulent calls since they don’t care about the law anyway, it will stop annoying though honest telemarketers from calling you. If you would like to read more about the Do Not Call List, check out these articles:
You should know that, according to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, every company must have written permission to include you in its calling list. It is also obliged to inform you that robocalls will be a part of its marketing campaign and that you are allowed to get yourself off the calling list whenever you want.
How to Handle a Robocall That You Answer?
The obvious way to protect yourself from robocall scams is not to answer calls from suspicious numbers. This advice may be difficult to follow because spoofing can make dodgy numbers appear legitimate.
If you happen to answer a robocall, pay attention to the following:
- Speaking is not advisory—The less you speak, the better because the caller will not be able to extract information from you. This is especially important if a robocall is meant to verify that your number is active. Staying silent can lead them to believe that the number is not valid
- Saying yes is a mistake—Some robocalls are designed to record your voice, so a recorded yes can potentially be used as a voice command for financial authorization
- Pressing numbers or following other instructions is a big no-no—If a pleasant voice on a robocall suggests you press one to talk to an agent, press two to remove your number from a calling list, or call back a specific number to hear about a fantastic deal, just don’t do it. These actions are meant to draw you deeper into the scam or confirm that you are a real person eligible for more spam calls
The best thing you can do when you realize that you’re on a spam call is hang up. Even if you think that the caller is legitimate, you should check them online, or through a customer support department of the company, they are allegedly calling from.
Can DoNotPay Do Anything About Robocalls?
DoNotPay offers an opportunity for perfect robocall revenge. You can get up to $3,000 with the help of the DoNotPay virtual legal team by making a robocall lawsuit. The process is super simple. Here’s what you should do:
- Log on DoNotPay via your web browser or iOS app as soon as you receive a robocall
- Choose RoboRevenge from the menu
- Generate a free virtual credit card
- Provide card details to the caller (at some point they will undoubtedly ask for them)
- Wait for the transaction to be attempted so that DoNotPay can get a hold of the caller’s information
- Take up to $3,000 from a lawsuit that you make following the instructions from DoNotPay
Everything regarding RoboRevenge is safe and legal. A virtual credit card is a card number, which is not associated with an actual funding source.
The trick is that it appears legitimate to the caller, but they won’t be able to extract money or your personal information from it. You should know that RoboRevenge will work only if the caller is calling from the States.
What Else Can DoNotPay Do?
DoNotPay can help you lower your bills, dispute parking tickets, get refunds for delayed flights, and a lot more. The world’s first robot lawyer can fill in for pricey legal advisors that most of us cannot afford.
- Dealing with credit card issues
- Dealing with bills you are unable to cover
- Canceling subscriptions or memberships
- Disputing traffic tickets
- Jumping the phone queue when getting in touch with customer service reps
- Fighting speeding tickets
- Getting revenge on other robocalls
- Suing people and companies in small claims court
- Scheduling a DMV appointment easy
- Getting refunds for delayed or canceled flights
- Contesting parking tickets