Americans receive an estimated 2.4 billion spam robocalls each month. That’s roughly 80 million calls a day from automated computer systems, and some days it may seem like you’re the target of every one of them.
The interruption of an early Sunday morning robocall, or one that falsely claims to be from a government agency, is compounded by the economic damage these callers can do. Vulnerable populations who fall for these callers fork over millions of dollars each year, such as through the notorious “IRS is suing you” scam. Consumer Reports estimates that more than $350 million per year is paid out to fraudulent telemarketers, which typically starts with a robocall.
Spoofing Proves Dangerous and Effective
Many consumers rely on Caller ID to avoid answering these unwanted robocalls. However, scammers use Caller ID alterations, known as spoofing, to hide who they really are. The incoming call can be technologically altered between the first and second ring to display a number different from the actual calling number, often your area code and exchange. This is called “neighbor spoofing” and odds are much greater that you’ll take the call. Sometimes Caller ID will even display your own number.
Variations on spoofing include changing the Caller ID to make the recipient believe the call is from local city government. Again, it makes you more likely to answer, but you’ll discover that it’s not the public library calling or the local police; it’s another robotic voice trying to sell you fake goods or services. Claiming a connection to local government adds weight to the sales pitch, but it’s still a sham. Learn more about how to protect yourself from spoofing with this FTC guide.
FCC and FTC Seek Solutions
Federal laws prohibit most prerecorded telemarketing calls, but scammers are creative and continue to find workarounds. In early October 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging that they had received over 3.4 million complaints about robocalls in 2016 and more than that number in the first eight months of 2017.
While it is important to remember that not all robocalls are from scammers, in 2003 the FTC established a National Do Not Call Registry to make it easier and more efficient for consumers to stop getting telemarketing calls. The FTC is also in charge of enforcement and has brought over 130 actions against telemarketers violating the list. In June 2017, the FTC settled its largest case to date—a complaint against Dish Network—for $280 million in fines and refunds.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai stated in early 2017 that his agency needs to do more to stop the problem. He is seeking increased collaboration with the private sector. He also applauds the Robocall Strike Force, launched in 2016, which has searched out new solutions to this problem.
What Can You Do?
The question for consumers is what you should or should not do when you get another automated call. Answering just informs the telemarketer or scam system that it has reached a “live” number leading to more calls. The FTC urges you to report every robocall to their hotline. They hope to share each number with local telecommunications firms to have those numbers blocked.
Share this article with someone you know who might be vulnerable to scammers, whether it’s an elderly relative or a young person on their own for the first time.