robocalls are on the riseIn today’s world, consumers are forced to wade through a sea of unwanted messages. Even though we have spam filters for our email accounts, invariably, some will always wind up in our inboxes. The same goes for phones, as many of us have probably received text messages and calls from unknown numbers at least once or twice. Although the creation of a Do Not Call registry was supposed to stem the tide of incessant telemarketing, tech scams, and phony IRS agents, unfortunately, in recent years, these scams have flourished thanks to the development of the robocall. So, what exactly happened to get us to this point and how can we deal with it? In this post, we’re taking an in-depth look at robocalls and some of the solutions that consumers have to deal with these menaces.

What are robocalls?

We all have likely experienced a robocall at some point in our lives, but it still might be useful to define what we’re referring to when we use the term. Robocalls are automatic phone calls that are made by various services and telemarketers. Not all robocalls are malicious – some come from the services that we use to provide important notifications, like appointment cancellations from a doctor’s office or reports about detected fraud on your bank account. Others come from companies and services wanting your money (e.g., telemarketers), and some come from those with less-than-benign intentions. Robocalls typically use prerecorded statements to engage consumers, but some have dial tone prompts or are designed to simulate human conversations.

Why are robocalls on the rise?

Since the dawn of the telephone, there have always been telemarketers calling at all hours with free cruise offers, threats of money owed and more, but robocalls have changed this landscape. The FTC has noted that, for years, the number of complaints about telemarketers and robocalls has been steadily rising. Experts say that the improvements in digital telephony and VoIP have essentially made the costs of scam and marketing calls negligible. This means that the economics of making these calls works out, even if only a handful of individuals respond. Another advancement is the ease by which new phone numbers can be spoofed or faked. In one instance, realtor Kim France was subject to 700 calls per day for five days. As with email header spoofing, which is done in phishing attacks, phone number spoofing can get victims to lower their guard and assume a call is coming from a familiar or respectable source. This makes robocalls not just annoying, but potentially dangerous, too, as they are being used to fuel scammers’ attempts at targeting new victims.

Because there are so many different types of organizations and institutions making robocalls, it’s been very difficult to address concerns regarding some of the more invasive and annoying robocalls. While nearly all robocalls are annoying, some – like those from your doctor, bank or airline – are legitimate. The FCC does have rules in place to regulate robocalls, but since some portion of these calls are being made by scammers who disregard the law, these rules haven’t stopped the more aggressive types of robocalls.

How can you deal with robocallers?

Although robocalling is a persistent problem, it’s one that’s being addressed by a coalition of government agencies and private companies, which means you have options for fighting this menace. Below we detail some of the steps you can take to protect yourself and deal with robocalls.

  • Enroll in the Do Not Call List and ignore strange numbers. If you haven’t already, you should add your number to the FTC Do Not Call Registry. While this in itself won’t stop all robocalls, it’s a first line of defense against unwanted calls. If you receive calls after enrolling in this registry, you can bet they’ll be coming from scammers or other unwanted sources. This should make it much easier to ignore some of the calls from unknown numbers without the fear of missing something important.
  • Don’t follow strange prompts or redial unknown numbers. If you do happen to answer a call from an unrecognized number and find yourself listening to an automated recording, don’t press any prompts, as these could auto-enroll you for additional calls in the future. Also, resist the temptation to try and call strange numbers back. This could result in your number being detected on the other end and added to a redial list. If you want to know more about an unknown number that called you, try searching for it on Google instead – oftentimes, the results will contain information as to whether the number belongs to a known scammer.
  • Look into technological solutions. Given that robocalls have been an ongoing problem, many companies have begun to roll out preventive measures to help consumers fight back. For example, phone providers now have the option to preemptively prevent calls that are potential robocalls or scams from even reaching consumers, sort of like an automatic email spam filter. Consumers can also purchase apps and services that provide call blocking and blacklisting. You may also want to consider using a VoIP service instead of traditional home phone service. With VoIP, you can create blacklists to block numbers, as well as easily issue yourself a new number if you are overwhelmed with robocalls and spam.
  • Protect your personal phone number. A big reason why some people are cold called a lot is that their number is in a database or public records waiting to be found. As we’ve discussed before, phone numbers don’t receive the same kinds of protections when it comes to data security as, say, your social security number, so they are more likely to be sold or acquired by dubious sources. To help keep your personal number free from spam, it might make sense to have more than one number. You can have a preferred number for friends and family, and a more public number that you use when signing up for services or dealing with companies.
  • Complain! Don’t just vent to your friends or stew about it after you receive an unwanted robocall. Instead, remember that you can complain to the FTC or FCC, which over time will aid in its mission to punish scammers and robocallers who don’t respect the Do Not Call registry. In the instance, you get a spam text message, you can forward it to 7726 (SPAM), as well. Doing so will help mobile carriers get better at recognizing – and blocking – scam messages in the future.

Although predatory robocalls and other types of spam and scams can be a big headache, with the right information up your sleeve, you can easily handle them. That’s why you should keep reading our privacy blog, where we offer tips on how to stay safe from scams and protect your personal information.