I just received my fifth email this month on the same topic.
In the email, my friend informed me he’s canceled his landline service and has chosen to use only his cellphone for voice communication because of the abundance of robocalls and scams he was receiving.
Unfortunately, this will not solve his robocall problem.
A robocall is a phone call with prerecorded messages. All robocalls are illegal, unless you have agreed to be called.
The reason we receive so many of these calls is that technology has made it easy and cheap for robocallers, and there’s money to be made by scammers.
Robocalls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. According to the FTC, the agency received 4.5 million robocall complaints in 2017, an increase of 132% over 2016.
Most of us know about the National Do Not Call Registry, where you can register your phone and report unwanted calls. As of today, over 220 million phone numbers are registered on the Do Not Call list. Do Not Call violations prompt over 300,000 complaints per month.
According to the FTC, less than 9% of the $1.2 billion in fines for Do Not Call and Robocall violations have been recovered. Enforcement is challenging because most calls originate overseas where they escape detection and punishment.
Additionally, scammers hide their identities by placing “spoofed” calls. Caller ID spoofing is the process of changing the Caller ID to any number other than the actual calling number.
So, for example, scammers can change the Caller ID to your area code, so you think the call is coming from a friend or a neighbor, increasing the likelihood you will pick up the call.
Scammers are also using Caller ID spoofing to impersonate the IRS, banking institutions, Microsoft and local law enforcement.
The FTC estimates $19 million has been lost by consumers in the IRS scam, where criminals pose as the IRS to con victims out of their money or acquire personal information.
The unfortunate part is that whether you have a traditional landline, a landline with VoIP service (like AT&T U-verse or Verizon Fios) or a smartphone, none of these technologies are immune to robocalls and scams.
Some of the latest mobile phone scams include:
SMS phishing or SMiShing. A cellphone receives an SMS (text message) from a fake person or entity (usually a bank or other company). The unsuspecting cellphone user will respond to a fake text message and visit a website URL, inadvertently downloading malware and installing a Trojan without the user’s knowledge.
One ring. Someone calls you and hangs up after one ring. The objective is to get you to call them back. If you do, you’ll be charged for an expensive international call.
Neighborhood spoofing. The area code and even the first few digits of your own number are mimicked to make it look like someone local is calling you so that you’ll pick up.
Can you hear me? The scammer, in order to impersonate victims with banks and other financial institutions that have voice recognition software, immediately asks, “Can you hear me?” The idea is to record the victim’s voice when he or she answers “Yes” and then use that recording with the victim’s financial institutions to gain entry to their accounts.
So what can be done to protect ourselves from the ever-increasing scam attacks through our phones?
While it probably won’t help much, consumers are still encouraged to register with the National Do Not Call Registry at DoNot- Call.gov and file a complaint when unwanted robocalls are received.
Consider using your phone company’s call blocking, call screening and Robocall Alert Services. AT&T, Verizon and other major service providers offer some of these basic services for free or for a small monthly fee. Contact your provider’s customer service department to learn more or check them out online.
Nomorobo is a service available to all phone users. It intercepts all calls after the first ring, compares the number to its vast list of robocall originators and decides whether to let the call go through. Recipients hear the first ring; if the call is legitimate, the phone rings normally. Verizon is recommending this service.
According to Consumer Reports, the robocall problem is out of control. Thirty-five state attorneys general are urging the federal government to step up its efforts to fight illegal robocalls.
In the meantime, it is up to us to be vigilant and take all the precautions we can.