What are Robocalls and How Can You Stop Them?
There are few things more irritating than answering a phone call from an unknown number, only to find a robotic voice on the other end letting you know that you're eligible for a timeshare on the beach, or threatening you with legal action because the IRS is after you for money. And if you dare answer any of their inquiries, these robocalls may even record your answers and use them to access finances or personal information in your name. Telemarketers and robo-scammers are known to employ every trick in the book, from using phone numbers with the same area code as yours to calling from international phone numbers over and over until you answer.
Having your phone be the target of unrelenting sales calls or robotic scams is scary and invasive. When your number ends up on a list for those kinds of calls, it can feel like an infringement on your privacy. Even worse, though, is that these kinds of scams are known to take advantage of vulnerable people or use up the precious minutes on your phone if you're on a limited plan. There are ways to end the harassment, though. Let's take a look at how laws on robocalls calls, along with a few tips and tricks, can help you avoid those nuisance calls.
The Stats on Robocalls and Scams
It likely won't surprise you to learn that many of the robocalls you receive are illegal and made without your consent. The Federal Communications Commission, a United States government agency that regulates communication via radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, works to protect people from scams and fake numbers. They're also known to fight for consumer laws that protect against illegal calls from banks, telemarketers, and debt collectors. Capital One, Comcast, and Transworld Systems were among the top three robo––callers of July 2019, according to the Robocall Index.
In July 2019, Texas topped the list for being the state with the most robocalls at 541,172,200; California came in second with 474,175,400, and Florida clocked in third with a total of 361,845,000 calls. Most of the callers in the U.S. came from Florida and California. Outside of the U.S., most calls originated from Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.
In 2017, 30 million robocalls were made for the purpose of collecting debt, and resulted in more than 4,000 lawsuits due to violations of consumers' rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Nearly 10,000 consumer lawsuits filed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
In some cases, the debt collectors had the wrong number and would continue to call even after they knew the number was incorrect. Sometimes they would also go as far as calling friends and relatives of the borrower. According to the National Consumer Law Center, though, the year 2018 was even worse. It's the worst year on record for robocalls. Organizations like NCLC are working to defend and strengthen consumer laws, particularly the federal TCPA, to protect consumers from these abusive and illegal practices.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
- The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is a law that protects consumers by giving them a say in who is allowed to call them. Debt collectors and non-emergency callers are supposed to get consent to use an autodialer to call a number. If they do not obtain permission, they open themselves up to a lawsuit. For example, those with late or defaulted student loans have the right to tell loan servicers to stop calling them under the TCPA.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is an amendment put in place to protect consumers from abusive practices by debt collectors. This law is often used in conjunction with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These are the following guidelines under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act:
What Are The Robocall Laws?
As a consumer, you have more legal protections than you think against this type of practice, and it's essential to know your rights. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act were enacted so telemarketers and debt collectors had to follow specific rules when contacting you.
Debt collectors cannot:
- Contact consumer by telephone outside of the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
- Call repeatedly
- Use abusive or profane language
- Use false threats of arrest or legal action
- Report false information on credit reports
- Contact consumers through public means like social media
- Deceive or misrepresent themselves
- Communicate with consumer if asked to stop
- Employer prohibited calls to consumer
- Publish consumer name and address on bad debt lists
- Call friends or relatives, unless it’s the spouse or attorney
- Seek unjustified amounts of money
Legal Roadblocks for Robocalls
There are ways to fight back against illegal robocalls using legal methods, and in most cases, the consumer protection groups will do it for you. Here are some of the federal organizations and ways that legal measurements are being utilized to fight back against this kind of activity.
The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on illegal robocalls.The FTC is having none of it when it comes to unlawful robocalls. The FTC recently settled with four separate operations that violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), and Do Not Call (DNC) provisions. In one case, punishment against one of the defendants was especially severe. The operation in this particular case was using software that made more than one billion illegal robocalls. Thankfully, under court orders, these four organizations are banned from robocalling and most telemarketing activities and were ordered to pay How to Stop Unwanted Robocalls from Spamming Your Phone significant financial judgments.
The House Approved a New Bill to Stop Robocalls
There are not a lot of causes that bring together people from all political parties, but robocalls are one of them. In July 2019, the House passed a bipartisan bill, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. This new legislation will allow for the following:
- It will require that phone carriers implement call authentication technology so consumers can trust their caller ID with no additional cost to consumers. This includes a process to help rural phone carriers implement the technology.
- It will allow carriers to offer call-blocking services to consumers at no additional charges. It will include important transparency safeguards to make sure important calls aren't inadvertently blocked.
- It will direct the FCC to issue rules protecting consumers from calls they didn't agree to receive and withdraw consent.
- It will require the FCC to enact safeguards so companies can't abuse robocall exemptions.
- It will ensure that the FCC has the authority and the tools to take quick action when it tracks down robocallers. Extending the statute of limitations from one year to three, and in some instances four years, for callers violating robocall prohibitions.
- It will mandate the FCC to submit a report to Congress on the implementation of its reassigned numbers database to make sure the Commission is effectively protecting consumers from unwanted calls.
How to Stop Robocalls on Your Own
So, there are clearly legal measures being passed and put in place to protect consumers from robocalls and punish companies and telemarketers that employ illegal phone call methods. Now that you have all this information in hand, it begs the question as to how you prevent robocalls without having to get new laws passed. Well, there are a lot of ways to protect yourself from these nuisance calls. Let's take a look. You can:
Get on the Do Not Call list.All this requires is a simple sign-up process, and afterward, you can register your phone for free with the National Do Not Call Registry. Your number will never expire on this list, so once you do it, you won't have to worry about it again. You can enter up to three numbers at a time, but you must use a valid email address.
Report calls to FTC.If you experience telemarketing scam robocalls, violations of the Do Not Call Registry, and/or unethical debt collectors, you can report them to the FTC. You will need to provide the following:
- Your contact information including your name, address, phone number, email
- The type of product or service involved
- Information about the caller including business name, address, phone number, website, email address, representative's name
- If you paid money, you'll need to give details including the amount you paid, how much you paid, and the date it occurred.
How to Block Robocalls With Call-Blocking Services
Robocalls are such a problem that even mobile carriers are offering services to consumers to block them specifically. These carriers are offering the following:
- Verizon - Customers can sign up for call block, caller ID, anonymous call rejection, and caller ID/call Waiting. The company also added a spam alert function to home phones that pull up the word "SPAM?" on the caller ID. Verizon also partnered with Nomorobo, a third-party app that identifies robocalls and telemarketers, for their Verizon Fios Digital Voice customers.
- Sprint - Customers can get the premium caller ID, which will display the caller's name, whether or not they're in your contacts list. The company also protects customers by blocking potential robocallers and spammers.
- T-Mobile - T-Mobile will identify callers using a scam ID and offer the opportunity to block them using scam block at no extra cost. For an additional $4 a month per line, T-Mobile will also give you the caller's name and location.
- AT&T - AT&T has blocked more than 5 billion robocalls using analytics to identify factors that may indicate that the caller is a robocaller, scammer, or telemarketer. The company offers AT&T Mobile Security and AT&T Call Protect, which are free services that will block fraudulent calls and alert you to potential spammers.
Use a Third-Party Robo-Blocking App or Service
If you're interested in downloading an app on your phone to block robocalls, there are several out there that can help cut down on spam calls. Here are a few of the best apps available to do just that.
- Truecaller - This self-appointed "world's best caller ID and spam blocking app" is free to download. It has 130 million active users and has blocked 10 billion spam calls to date.
- Hiya - This company launched in 2016 and already has users in every country on Earth. As of 2018, they had 50 million active users.
- YouMail -This free app will help you with not only robocall blocking but also a cloud-based visual voicemail and conference calls.
- RoboKiller - This app's slogan is "take back your phone and get revenge on the spammers." RoboKiller blocks more than 1.1 million telemarketers and robocalls, even if they change their number.
- Use Android and iOS Call Blocking Options - Unfortunately, some scammers don't care whether you're on the Do Not Call registry. They'll find your phone number and call you either way. Luckily, cell phone companies like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile offer instructions on their websites for how to block unwanted numbers. Follow the instructions, and you'll be on your way to a robocall-free existence.
While an influx of telemarketers and robocalls might be pushing the limits of your frustration, there are plenty of ways to limit the harassment. Remember your consumer rights and the agencies in place to protect your time and interests. Your life might never be completely robocall-free, but with these resources at your fingertips, you can get pretty close.