Dealing with unwanted ‘robo’ calls


It is likely that you have experienced unsolicited phone calls from telemarketers or scammers using direct contact or “robo” call methods. In the direct contact method, a person asks for you by name and attempts to sell you something that you don’t want. The “robo” call method is more common because it is more efficient. “Robo” call technology uses a computer to call multiple phone numbers and presents a recording of what they want you to be notified about.  In 2019, about half the calls in the U.S. were “Robo” calls (about 60 billion). Some “Robo” calls may be helpful such as notifying you about upcoming medical or car repair appointments, prescription shipments, critical events, etc. Solicitation and scammer calls are the downside. Scammers attempt to talk you into giving them money without any intention of repayment or providing a good or service. So what do you do about it?

There are many suggestions out there, so here are a few: The most prevalent suggestion is to get on the FCC “do not call” registry. Telemarketers are supposed to review this list and not call phone numbers on the list. If you get an unsolicited call, you can report it to the FCC. This registry is intended to prevent sales calls only. Politicians, surveying organizations, charitable organizations and debt collectors are exempt from the registry. Also if you have done business with a company or returned a call to a company, they can call you anytime. Many companies violate the “do not call” registry since there is a lot of money to be made with little chance of being prosecuted. The net result is that being on the registry eliminates some calls, but not all. So what else can one do about this problem?  Having caller ID service can help. If you view a phone number that can’t be recognized on your phone, then avoid answering it and let it go to voice mail. (Check your voice mail regularly to make sure it isn’t full, if you use this suggestion). If someone really wants to get in touch with you, they will usually leave a message. However, some people just hang up when voice mail starts in the hope they can try again later. If your caller ID shows someone from the IRS, the Social Security Administration or some government organization that you have not recently interacted with, avoid accepting the call. These government organizations always write you a letter and never call unless returning your call.

Scammers have now come up with a way to get around caller ID by spoofing. Spoofing refers to a scammer sending a fake phone number to your phone with a fake caller ID. This practice is illegal. For instance, I received a call with a caller ID that indicated it came from city hall in Rochelle that turned out to be a telemarketer. Sometimes you may receive a phone call with the ID of a friend with the correct phone number, which may still be a scam. Some scammer recordings invite you to talk with a live person by pressing a button on your phone. Just hang up, since following these directions could result in you buying something that you don’t want. (The offer to be removed from their call list, by pressing a button, has also not been shown to be effective). Avoid giving personal information such as credit card numbers, social security number or bank account numbers over the phone to unknown callers. Scammers could use this information to make fraudulent purchases and make other financial transactions in your name. If someone asks for you by name, avoid answering “yes,” instead ask who is calling or respond with “speaking.” A “yes” answer can be recorded and used to claim that you authorized a purchase.

There is call blocking software available that utilizes your list of unwanted numbers to block calls. Scammers merely change their numbers to get around this. If you use a smart phone, you may have the option to send all calls from numbers that are not in your contact list directly to voice mail. The disadvantage to this option is if you are waiting for a call back from a doctor’s office or vendor, they may not use the number you have for them in your contact list and you will miss the call. You may need to temporarily turn off this option. Your phone service provider may also be able to aid in blocking unwanted calls. Many services are now indicating whether a call is validated or is suspected scam on caller ID. There are also a number of different call screening apps that require the caller to identify themselves so you can choose whether to answer the call. Although you don’t have to speak to the caller, it is still disruptive to get unwanted calls. Finally, the government is currently working on technology which would prohibit the changing of phone numbers displayed by caller ID, which could reduce these scams.

It is well known that humans are creative in finding new ways to commit crime. Last year scammers using “robo” calling software chalked up about 20 billion dollars in revenue, suggesting that scamming is profitable and will probably continue. Right now it is difficult to determine if the call you receive is legitimate. Trying out some of these suggestions may help relieve the aggravation of unwanted “robo” calls. Hopefully we are moving in the direction of solving this problem. Good luck.

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