Why the “Do Not Call Registry” Can’t Protect You from Spam Phone Calls Anymore

If you’re afraid to answer your phone, you’re hardly alone. Spam calls have become so common that they’ve basically rendered the “phone” part of “smartphone” useless. Or at least, very dumb. But help might, finally, be on the way.

The Do Not Call list, which debuted in 2004, was perhaps the most popular program operated by the U.S. government in decades — 50 million numbers were entered before the list even took effect. Since then, another 170 million numbers were entered into the registry. U.S. telemarketers quickly learned to abide by the list or face multi-million dollar fines the Federal Trade Commission could impose — and there have been more than 100 enforcement actions.

It worked…for a while. But the combination of internet-based telephones and cheap long-distance calls have made it easy for telephone scofflaws to operate overseas, far beyond the reach of U.S. authorities. Unwanted calls have returned with a vengeance, making some wonder if the Do Not Call list works at all.

How bad is the problem? A firm called YouMail Inc. tries to count the number of robocalls that pester Americans, and the statistics are staggering. YouMail claims that 2.5 billion unwanted calls were placed just in April 2017, equaling 7.7 calls per person.

For fun, YouMail breaks down its data by ZIP code, and found that Atlanta wins for most robocalls received, with about 50 million placed just to the 404 area code in April. Another 35 million arrived at Atlanta’s 678 area code. Houston and Dallas area codes came in second and third. New York City’s 917 area code was fifth, with 29 million.

The robocall problem has been intractable for a series of reasons — mainly, because it makes the criminals who run scams like fake IRS debt collection like these a lot of money. But two other technology reasons stick out.

1. Criminals can “spoof” caller ID numbers.

First, it’s become easier for criminals to “spoof” caller ID numbers. That not only keeps consumers from blocking numbers, it can also make them more likely to answer. Calls that appear to come from the recipient’s own area code — or even share the same first six digits of their phone number — suggest a local call, so consumers are tempted to answer.

2. The telecom industry has a hard time stopping suspicious calls.

Second, the telecom industry has avoided implementing technology that would stop many suspicious calls because the firms claim they are legally required to connect calls, and they don’t have the authority to decide what is spam and what isn’t.

Years of frustration and consumer complaints finally nudged the Federal Communications Commission toward action last year, and it created the Robocall Strike Force. In August, tech heavy hitters like AT&T, Google, and Microsoft gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss ideas.

Then in March, with the FCC under new leadership, Chairman Ajit Pai indicated he would go ahead with proposals from the task force. Specifically, he would call for a change in rules that explicitly gave telecom firms the right to cut off spammers.

“Under my proposal, the FCC would give providers greater leeway to block spoofed robocalls. Specifically, they could block calls that purport to be from unassigned or invalid phone numbers — there’s a database that keeps track of all phone numbers, and many of them aren’t assigned to a voice service provider or aren’t otherwise in use,” he wrote in a Medium post explaining the change. “There is no reason why any legitimate caller should be spoofing an unassigned or invalid phone number. It’s just a way for scammers to evade the law.”

Later in March, the FCC approved the proposal. The work isn’t done, however. There’s now a public comment period; a vote to enact the new rules won’t happen until later this year. Then there will be a transition period as carriers implement their spoofed-call-blocking technologies.

How to stop unwanted spam phone calls

Relief is in sight, but it’s not time to turn your ringtone back on just yet. For now, consumers can investigate third-party services like Nomorobo ($2/month, iPhone only, see a review here) or Hiya (free, see iTunes reviews here) that claim to help by using blacklists and other methods to identify spam callers. Some providers and smartphones offer their own free call-blocking options, but they are cumbersome to use. Consumers can Google phone numbers that call, just to see if others have complained online about them. Or simply keep screening those calls for a bit longer.

The post Why the “Do Not Call Registry” Can’t Protect You from Spam Phone Calls Anymore appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

8 Tips to Stop Annoying Robocalls

Automated calls are becoming more frequent and more infuriating. Weren’t they supposed to have been banned? Yes, but that hasn’t happened in practice.

According to the Better Business Bureau, the federal Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibits recorded sales messages unless you have given written permission for the caller to contact you, regardless of whether or not your number is on the Do Not Call registry.

Nonetheless, a growing number of consumers are receiving calls that offer fraudulent credit card services, questionable auto warranty plans, home security systems and grant procurement programs.

Here are some tips from the BBB and Money Talks News for stopping robocalls. They’re not foolproof, but they can help.

1. Keep Your Number to Yourself

You know how businesses ask for your number for just about any reason? If you don’t have to give it, don’t. “It is a tacit invitation for them to call that number or sell it to a third party,” the BBB said. You still have privacy rights.

2. Tell Companies You Use to Buzz Off

It’s not illegal for a business to make marketing calls to you if you have a relationship with them. So read the terms and conditions of your purchases and services carefully. Buried in those agreements might be a clause agreeing to these annoying calls.

If you find out too late that you agreed to their spam, you can still stop it by specific request. Call and keep a record of the date you made the request, and follow up with the Federal Trade Commission if the business keeps harassing you.

3. Hang Up Right Away

If you get a robocall, immediately hang up. “There is nothing to gain from attempting to reason with the people behind the calls,” the BBB said.

Contact your service provider to see if it has free blocking services but be warned: Your caller ID might show a phony number when the robocall comes in because the latest technology can fool your service.

4. Don’t Press Numbers

In the past, many people have recommended certain number combinations or the pound key to delete your information from a robocall registry. But does pressing the right numbers really take you off the list?

The BBB said no, you’re actually making it worse: “By pressing a number, you are confirming that someone is actually responding to the call, and you will likely receive more of them.”

5. Get on the Do Not Call Registry

Sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry. It’s free, your number is never taken off the list, and it will at least stop law-abiding solicitors. It’s for both cellphones and landlines.

6. File a complaint

If you’ve been on the Do Not Call Registry for a month or longer and still get calls, file a complaint with the FTC. This may seem like a waste of time, but it doesn’t take long, and sometimes enough complaints can get policy changed.

If the call comes from an identifiable business, you should also report it to the Better Business Bureau.

7. Use a Free Service to Block All Robocalls

Consider using a free tool like Nomorobo, which you can use to block robocalls. You tell it who your carrier is, provide an email address and from that point forward, an algorithm blocks robocalls.

Nomorobo works by letting your phone ring once. It then identifies the caller and if it’s a robocaller, it hangs up.

Note, however, that the company site warns, “Nomorobo is only available on certain VoIP providers and only in the United States.” It isn’t yet available for most major cellphone companies.

8. Block political calls

The 2016 election campaign is starting to heat up. Since politicians aren’t trying to sell you anything, their calls are excluded from the do-not-call rules. That means these folks can call your landline and don’t have to stop even if you ask.

The best solution may be to have a tool like Nomorobo block these robocalls. But that’s about your only defense.

This post originally appeared on MoneyTalks News.

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Image: Minerva Studio

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