Robocalls Fray Consumers’ Nerves

The National Do Not Call Registry was created in 2003 to cut down on the amount of unwanted automated phone calls – often referred to as robocalls – consumers were receiving. Though it was effective for several years, these unwanted calls surged again beginning sometime around 2010, and according to USA Today, Americans received 3.3 billion robocalls this April alone. Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota offers insight into how robocalls work and ways you can steer clear of them.

“This is an evolving problem,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “The bad guys are constantly changing their tactics, but consumers can learn new tricks too.”

Though it’s a useful tool, the Do Not Call Registry isn’t perfect. Legitimate companies may still call you in error, and shady entities don’t care about the rules. Still, it’s worth registering your numbers – cellphones too. To register by telephone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). You must call from the phone number that you want to register. To register online (donotcall.gov), you will have to respond to a confirmation email. Registrations never expire. Once you add a number to the Do Not Call Registry, you do not need to register it again.

Another important thing to know about robocalls is that unless a telemarketer has consumers’ written permission to be contacted, it’s illegal to make such calls. However, robocalls about candidates running for office or charities seeking donations are generally allowed – although such calls are illegal in North Dakota. In addition, some pre-recorded messages which are purely informational – such as school, airline and pharmacy updates – are allowed. But if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal.

Beyond registering your phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, there are other things consumers can do to limit their exposure to illegal robocalls:

  • Let calls from unknown numbers go to voicemail. Though there’s always that curiosity to know who’s calling you – and why – letting unknown callers go to voicemail weeds out many potential problems. People who need to speak with you will leave a message.
  • Know about spoofing. Scammers have technology that lets them alter – spoof – the information that appears on your caller ID. They can make it look as though a call is coming from the government or a hospital, when in fact it’s just another scam attempt.
  • Watch out for neighbor spoofing. Scammers know people are more likely to answer calls from within their own telephone prefix. Hold fast to this rule: if it’s an unfamiliar number, don’t answer. Answering such calls may only lead to more robocalls.
  • Consider robocall-blocking technology and features. In addition to apps that you can install on your cellphone, you can also take advantage of services your phone company might offer or equipment you can purchase and connect to your landline.
    • Traditional landlines have a feature – often free – called anonymous call rejection. To enable it, just pick up your phone and press *77. You can turn this feature off by pressing *87. Utilizing anonymous call rejection should weed out calls that come in as Anonymous, Private or Blocked.
  • Know the rules. If the pre-recorded call you receive is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. If you receive calls in violation of the Do Not Call Registry after your number has been on the Do Not Call list for 31 days, they should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov or 1-877-382-4357.
  • Avoid calls that show up as ‘Cardholder Services.’ Calls that offer to “reduce the interest rate” on your credit card have been going around for years. The offers sound good, but only lead to trouble and potential fraud.
  • Student Loan Forgiveness calls are problematic. People who have student loan debt may get robocalls saying that their loans can be forgiven. Such calls are often lead-ins to offers for expensive loan consolidation services, which people can seek on their own, for free. There are student loan forgiveness programs but they’re very specific and relatively few qualify.

In addition to reporting robocalls to the FTC, BBB encourages the public to report them to BBB Scam Tracker, as well, to warn others about their experience. For more fraud alerts and marketplace news, visit bbb.org.