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Robocalls in 2019

By on October 8, 2019

What is a robocall? 

The FTC defines robocalls as calls where you hear recorded messages as opposed to a live person. Robocalls originate from computerized autodialers that are programmed to deliver pre-recorded messages. 

The calls are usually associated with telemarketing and political phone campaigns, but they can be used for emergency or public-service announcements, among other purposes.

Are robocalls illegal?

If you get a lot of robocalls, there is a high likelihood that such calls are illegal. US political parties, unaffiliated campaigns, unions among other organizations can make robocalls legally. The US Do-Not-Call Registry doesn’t include political robocalls. However, the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) and FCC regulation prohibit anyone, including charities, political parties, and politicians from making robocalls without getting prior consent from a recipient. The FCC permits robocalls that are non-commercial. Such calls can be made legally to residential telephone lines (non-cellular lines). 

When is a robocall legal?

All robocalls, whether political or otherwise, must meet certain criteria to be deemed legal. Federal law requires every pre-recorded phone call to identify the initiator of the call initially. The address or telephone number of the initiator must also be given. 

Different states may have different laws regulating robocalls. For instance, automated robocalls are prohibited in North Dakota and Indiana. States like New Hampshire allow political robocalls only if the recipient of a call isn’t in the Do-Not-Call Registry. Most states need additional disclosure details of the initiator/s of a political robocall such as who paid and such disclosures recorded in the politician’s own voice. 

Legal robocalls without my permission

Besides political robocalls that meet the above criteria, other legal robocalls can be made without your permission. The FTC allows some robocalls, whether you approve them or not. They include:

  • Informational robocalls
  • Health care provider robocalls
  • Charity robocalls
  • Debt collection robocalls

1. Informational robocalls: You can get a robocall reminding you of an appointment, a flight cancellation, a delay in school opening dates, etc., provided the caller isn’t trying to sell anything after supplying information. 

2. Health care provider robocalls: Your pharmacy can call you to refill a prescription. Your hospital can also call you to deliver urgent news regarding your health. 

3. Charity robocalls: Charities can call you directly or hire someone to call you on their behalf. If they are using a third-party to call you, robocalls can only be made to prior donors or existing members. The robocalls should also have an option for the recipient to opt-out of future calls. 

4. Debt collection robocalls: A business can get in touch with you to collect an existing debt. However, they shouldn’t attempt to sell you a service to reduce the debt.

Report robocalls

You can report robocalls to the FTC. If your number is on the Do-Not-Call registry, you should wait for 31 days before reporting any unwanted sales calls. You should report robocalls to the FTC even if your phone number isn’t on the Do-Not-Call registry. It’s worth noting that some organizations like political organizations, charities, debt collectors, and telephone surveyors will still call individuals who have registered their numbers in the FTC registry.

You should understand your rights if you are dealing with robocalls from organizations such as debt collectors. The FTC has the mandate of enforcing laws on fair debt collection practices stipulated in the FDCPA. For instance, debt collectors can’t use deceptive, unfair, or abusive practices to collect a debt. If you have informed your debt collector to contact your representative (your lawyer), they should stop trying to call you. 

The process

When reporting robocalls, select the category that describes the type of robocall you have received. Reporting robocalls is a 3-step simple process of providing basic information about yourself and the caller, including important details of the incident.

In most cases, robocalls are made using fake caller IDs. You are encouraged to report all instances of robocalls even if you suspect your caller is using a fake number. The FTC compiles and analyses data and trends to catch illegal callers based on factors like calling patterns. Furthermore, a reported number (even if it is fake) can be released to the public. The FTC releases robocaller numbers every day (business days). 

The FTC also provides other resources, including cases. Every report can help phone carriers, as well as other partners, find better ways of blocking calls. A report can also help law enforcement get closer or even catch the individuals who sponsor robocalls. The FTC leads many initiatives aimed at developing better tech-solutions to robocalls. Such initiatives are made possible by the public when they report robocall incidents. 

How to block robocalls

There are several measures for stopping robocalls. The most effective include:

  • Call blocking 
  • Be cautious with unknown callers
  • Add your phone number to the US Do-Not-Call registry
  • Read the fine print
  • Report robocalls
  • Sign up for FTC scam alerts
  • Understand the applicable law

1. Call blocking 

Call blocking is an effective defense against scammers who make robocalls to recipients who have gone great lengths to avoid such calls. If you are on the Do-Not-Call registry and you are still getting robocalls, you need to understand your call blocking options. The type of cellphone you have will dictate the kind of call blocking that will be effective.

Call blocking on a mobile phone or cell phone: If you have a Smartphone, it probably has inbuilt call blocking features you can explore and use to block robocalls. Your carrier also has call blocking services you can use for free or at a small fee. You can also download Smartphone apps regardless of your OS. There are call blocking apps for iPhones and Android phones. Some applications are free, while others come at a fee. You can visit ctia.org to see what apps the US wireless industry recommends for call blocking. The CTIA has a resource center that lets you know the robocall blocking tools and services available in the US per carrier. There are also resources on the best robocall blocking apps, among other useful information.  

Call blocking on a landline phone: If you are trying to block robocalls on your landline phone, your carrier should have a service for that. You can also install a call blocking device on your landline phone to divert robocalls to voicemail or stop robocalls completely. Some call blocking devices installed on landline phones use lists (whitelists) to approve numbers. 

Call blocking a VoIP phone: If you are trying to block robocalls to your home VoIP phone, carriers have internet-based call blocking services you can use. You confirm with your carrier if you are using a VoIP phone. Call blocking for VoIP can stop robocalls completely, allow calls to ring silently, or divert them to voicemail.

2. Be cautious with unknown callers

You may be getting robocalls because you haven’t been cautious when dealing with unknown callers. You should hang-up immediately and block the number when you realize you are taking a robocall. Engaging with robocallers results in more calls. Never give out personal information to a third party you haven’t authorized to call you.  

Furthermore, you should verify the authenticity of every call first. Look-up the number calling you and call directly. Technologies like call ID spoofing allow phone scammers to call you with fake call IDs that may resemble those of legitimate businesses or persons you do business with.

3. Add your phone number to the US Do-Not-Call registry

Although you can still receive robocalls even if your number is in the Do-Not-Call registry, it doesn’t hurt to include all your phone numbers in the registry. You will reduce the number of robocalls you get, even if you don’t stop getting robocalls forever. Telemarketers can’t call numbers that are registered in the registry.

4. Read the fine print

Before giving any business your number, read the privacy policy carefully. Most businesses hide clauses in lengthy privacy policies allowing them to contact you anytime with offers. If you sign such a document without reading carefully, you are bound to receive legal robocalls. Legitimate businesses can’t call you legally if you don’t consent in writing. This remedy is effective for blocking robocalls from legitimate businesses. 

5. Report robocalls

You can report robocalls online to the FCC or FTC. You should include the caller’s number and the phone number they leave behind when reporting robocalls. This information is critical for tracking down scammers. 

Although caller ID spoofing allows scammers to call with fake caller IDs, the FTC can analyze the information you provide, among other information and trends, to track illegal callers based on factors like their calling patterns. Reporting also helps to make public caller IDs related to scammers. Such efforts can inspire new call-blocking solutions by phone carriers as well as help the authorities conduct investigations. 

Reports about telemarketers who still call you even when you have opted-out or included your number in the Do-Not-Call registry should be forwarded to the FTC’s complaints assistant. If you receive a robocall purporting to be from the IRS, you should report to www.tigta.gov. Alternatively, you can call 1800 366 4484.

Important: In case you are wondering what happens to consumer complaints, the FCC uses complaints to gather valuable information that informs policy decisions. Consumer complaints are also used to inform potential enforcement actions against individuals or entities that violate FCC rules under the TCPA on robocalls. The FCC can share information with agencies like the FTC if jurisdiction is shared in violations under investigation. The FCC also has an enforcement bureau that works alongside an industry group that shares information with providers and carriers to trace traffic from illegal calls back to originating providers. The bureau supplements efforts to trace robocalls. The commission also has non-participating providers helping in this effort. In summary, reporting robocalls is a crucial part of stopping robocalls.

6. Sign up for FTC scam alerts

Since phone call scams keep changing as technology advances, the above tips on how to block robocalls may be obsolete with time. This is evident with the continuous amendments made on laws such as TCPA. Since being enacted in 1991, the law has gone through numerous changes to cope with evolving phone scams. Stopping robocalls should be viewed as a continuous effort. To receive the latest news, tips as well as advice on phone call scams in the US, sign up for FTC alerts.  

You can join other trusted consumer organizations endorsed by the FCC, such as the National Consumers League to get scam alerts. 

7. Understand the law

The FCC made a ruling recently (In June 2019) requiring phone companies to block unwanted robocalls as a default before such calls reach consumers. The FCC also requires carriers to offer consumers choices to get more advanced robocall blocking tools such as basing blocking on contact lists. The recent actions follow 2017 adoptions allowing phone companies to block calls made from phone numbers, which can’t make outgoing calls without violating the FCC’s call completion rules. Having a basic understanding of such rules and regulations can help you stop robocalls. 

If you are wondering how to stop robocalls forever, the FCC’s continued efforts to push for call authentication based on SHAKEN/STIR standards will see voice providers exchange accurate information on the source of phone calls across their networks. The FCC is pushing for implementation in 2019. In fact, the commission has positioned itself as an implementer of the SHAKEN/STIR call ID authentication framework if the 2019 deadline isn’t met. 2019 could very well be the end of robocalls given caller ID spoofing is one of the main reasons most remedies against robocall are ineffective. 

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