Those Annoying Robocalls

The top consumer complaint to the FCC is unwanted, illegal and spoofed robocalls. Complaints are on the rise from consumers whose numbers are being spoofed or whose calls are being mistakenly blocked or labeled as a possible scam call by a robocall blocking app or service.

Stats (https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/12/ftc-releases-fy-2018-national-do-not-call-registry-data-book-mini):

  • 235 million phone numbers on the Do Not Call list
  • $9.5 Billion was lost by consumers to phone scams in 2017
  • 5,780,172 complaints about unwanted telemarketing
  • 3,790,614 complaints about robocalls in 2018
  • 80 percent of consumers report being “highly annoyed” by robocalls

 

Tips to Stop Unwanted Robocalls and Avoid Phone Scams

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • Don’t call back phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Often, it is a scammer who is using a foreign phone number that will charge you to call it — kind of like calling a “900” number.
  • You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
  • If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.
  • To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

Need more Info: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/stop-unwanted-robocalls-and-texts

 

Things to Do

 

Apps to Use on Your Smartphone

 

How About SPAM Text Messages? (SMS)

  • Don’t ever respond to them.
  • Block the number that sent it to you.
  • Copy or select the original message and text it to 7726 (which spells out SPAM). This works with all major carriers.

 

The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (H.R. 946) would:

  • Amend the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to ensure that the FCC has the authority and the tools to take strong, quick action when they track down robocallers;

A good idea, but technically difficult. Using our current technology, determining the actual source of a robocall or a text message (SMS) is almost impossible.

  • Allow consumers to revoke the consent they had previously given to receive calls;

Difficult to manage. How are we going to distribute the list of those who have given consent, or who revoke consent? How are we going to distribute it?

The “do-not-call” list turned out to be a great source for scammers to find legitimate phone numbers. Want to know who to call? Just call from outside the US using the do-not-call list.

  • Codify a reassigned number database to put robocallers on notice when a telephone number they may have previously been authorized to call has been given to a new customer who has not authorized their call;

Another bad idea that will just make it easier for the robocallers to find legitimate phone numbers. Switch your phone number just to find out you’re getting even more robocalls.

It is already illegal to use robocalls to contact consumers via cell phone who don’t have a business relationship with the caller.  Exceptions include landlines. See VT State Law 9 V.S.A. § 2464a https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/09/063/02464a

The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) regulates automated calls.[22] All robocalls, irrespective of whether they are political in nature, must do two things to be considered legal. Federal law requires all telephone calls using pre-recorded messages to identify who is initiating the calls and include a telephone number or address whereby the initiator can be reached”  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robocall

  • Limit the number of robocalls exempted from the TCPA under the FCC’s rules;

TCPA rules are already being misused

The TCPA is a strict liability statute that awards $500 per each violation and up to $1,500 per willful violation, penalties that were designed to empower individual consumers to seek redress in small claims court. However, the expanded scope of the TCPA has proven to be a windfall for the plaintiff class action lawyers with TCPA class actions increasing by a factor of over 400% from 2010. A total of 3710 class action lawsuits were filed in 2015, a 45% increase over 2014. Class action settlements in the tens of millions of dollars are not uncommon

Current recent exemptions (https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=184a7a85-2501-4eb9-ad46-8d50e1e62539):

  • Financial institutions call relevant to the security of the subscriber’s account.
  • Health care providers regarding appointments, test results, medication status, etc.
  • Utilities regarding service issues, emergencies, outages, etc. (New as of 8/4/16).
  • Schools regarding weather closures, fire, health risks, threats, and unexcused absences and with express consent other school activities (consent evidenced by providing a phone number to the school) (New as of 8/4/16).
  • Require calls to have verified caller identification information associated with a call before the call can be put through; and
  • Extend the statute of limitations from one year to four years for callers violating robocall prohibitions.

 

At the FCC it is our top consumer protection priority to protect you from these unwelcome situations and is cracking down on illegal calls in a variety of ways:

  • Issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in enforcement actions against illegal robocallers.
  • Allowing phone companies to block certain types of calls that are likely to be unlawful before they even reach consumers.
  • Empowering consumers to use call blocking or labeling services for calls to their telephone number.
  • Working to develop ways that phone companies can authenticate caller ID to reduce illegal spoofing.
  • Making our complaint data available to enable better call blocking and labeling solutions.

Download the FCC Report on Robocalls (PDF; 2/14/19)

You can file a complaint with the FCC if you believe you have received an illegal call or text.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey and South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune have introduced a bill on Friday that aims to ramp up the penalties on illegal robocalls and stop scammers from sending them. Gizmodo reports:

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, raises the penalty for robocalls from $1,500 per call to up to $10,000 per call, and allows the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action on illegal robocalls up to three years after the calls are placed, instead of a year. The Act also aims to push the FCC to work along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and other agencies to provide information to Congress about advancements in hindering robocall and prosecuting scammers. Perhaps most importantly for us highly annoyed Americans, the bill would also force phone service providers to use call authentication that filters out illegitimate calls before they go through to consumers.

 

Sponsor: Sen. Thune, John [R-SD] (Introduced 01/16/2019)
Committees: Senate – Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Latest Action: Senate – 04/03/2019 Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.  (All Actions)
Text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/151/text
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