Fight Back Against Illegal Robocalls

By Suzette Thompson, DON CIO Privacy Team - Published, October 23, 2019

Whether on a ship or shore, as a Department of the Navy active duty member or civilian, you are not immune from receiving unwanted and/or unsolicited phone calls or texts. The intent of many of these texts and phone calls is to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII).

In recent years, more and more telemarketers use a variety of technology options to inundate consumers with prerecorded calls that are most often unwanted and, unsurprisingly, considered the No. 1 source of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In an effort to combat such unwanted calls, new Federal Trade Commission rules went into effect in June prohibiting most prerecorded telemarketing calls, unless the telemarketer has a consumer’s prior consent to transmit such calls either to a phone or via text.

Although consumers can register their numbers with the “Do Not Call” registry to try to stop receiving these calls, this action only addresses calls from legitimate businesses.

If you ask consumers, what a “robocall” is, typically, they will tell you that it is an annoying and unwanted call. However, some robocalls are legitimate and the company or organization does not need a consumer’s permission to place such calls. Robocalls such as these can transmit needed information to customers. Examples of this would be office or local community closures and early school dismissals due to inclement weather, notification of doctor appointments, and others. In such cases, robocalls convey beneficial information to large numbers of people in an effective and time saving manner.

Other robocalls are only allowed if a company has a consumer’s written consent. To obtain consent, a company must be clear in its request to contact you. Additionally, at any time you, as the consumer, can change your mind and stop receiving such calls.

Unfortunately, if you are receiving calls without providing prior consent, more than likely the purpose of the calls is an attempt to convince you to purchase something from a company you generally do not do business with or an attempt to fraudulently obtain your PII.

According to the FCC, scammers can fake names and phone numbers that can appear on your caller ID as a legitimate caller. This is known as “spoofing.” Scammers use “neighbor spoofing” to appear as if the call is coming from your local area code, one that you would generally know, trust and therefore answer.

So what are the FTC and FCC doing to combat robocalls?

The FTC has brought more than a hundred lawsuits against over 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls and other “Do Not Call violations.” Further, several technology-based solutions are in development to block, track down and stop illegal robocalling.

The FTC said its approach is to continue “aggressive law enforcement, build better tools for investigating robocalls, coordinate with law enforcement, industry, and other stakeholders and stimulate and pursue technological solutions.”

What should you do if you receive an illegal robocall? First and foremost, hang up and whatever you do, don't press any numbers even though prompted to do so. According to the FTC, the recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.

You can also file a complaint with the FTC at donotcall.gov.

The FCC provides the following guidance to prevent unwanted calls.

-- Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.

-- If the caller claims to be from a legitimate company or organization, hang up and call them back using a valid number found on their website or on your latest bill if you do business with them.

-- If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to press a button to stop receiving calls, or asks you to say "yes" in response to a question, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, live respondents, or to use your "yes" to apply unauthorized charges to your phone bill.

-- Be aware: A caller ID showing a "local" number no longer means it is necessarily a local caller.

-- If you answer and the caller asks for payment using a gift card, it's likely a scam. Legitimate organizations, like law enforcement, will not ask for payment with a gift card.

-- If you receive a scam call, file a complaint with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center by selecting the "phone" option and selecting "unwanted calls." The data it collects helps track trends and supports enforcement investigations.

-- If you have lost money because of a scam call, contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

-- Ask your phone company if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage them to offer one. You can also visit the FCC's website for more information about illegal robocalls and resources about available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.

-- Consider registering your phone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. Lawful telemarketers use this list to avoid calling consumers on the list.

Similar guidance and additional information in preventing or combatting unwanted text and phone calls or scams may be found on the FTC website: www.ftc.gov.

The best advice: If you don’t recognize the phone number, don’t answer the call, let it go to voicemail.

TAGS: Privacy, Wireless

Related CHIPS Magazine