Legal Guide to Spam Phone Calls in 2019
Definition of spam phone calls
Spam phone calls are irrelevant, and inappropriate phone calls made mostly for fraudulent or criminal reasons. Crank calls, unsolicited telemarketing phone calls, as well as abusive or obscene phone calls directed mostly to women, qualify as spam calls.
Other phone calls that fit into this definition include impersonation calls and tech-support scam calls.
Quick spam phone call statistics in the US
- Americans got 26 billion spam calls in 2018, representing a 46% increase from the previous year.
- 50% of all cell phone calls in 2019 will be spam phone calls.
- Spam calls accounted for 3.7% of all calls in 2017, signifying a sharp increase in the number of spam calls in the recent past.
Why should I care about spam phone calls?
You can just ignore calls from spammers; however, ignoring doesn’t get rid of all the risks associated with such calls. You should be concerned when you get spam calls since such calls are rarely meant to annoy you. The calls are meant to steal something from you (your identity and/or hard-earned cash).
Spam callers want your social security number, credit card number, business information, device passwords, among many other things that put your privacy and finances at risk. Identity thieves can put your freedom at risk if they manage to steal your identity and commit a crime.
Characteristics of a spam phone call
Spam calls can be characterized in many ways the most notable being by the caller:
- A real person
- A robot (robocall)
1. Scam calls from a real person
A real person can call you with the aim of stealing your identity, money, or both. The most famous type of scam call from a real person is the IRS scam, which has cost US taxpayers millions in fraudulent payments made by unsuspecting taxpayers since 2013. The IRS has even been on record warning US taxpayers of the scam.
2. Robocall phone scams
These phone scams are done using computerized auto-dialers that deliver prerecorded messages like robots. Robocall phone scams are unsolicited. They originate mostly from scammers posing as legal businesses with the sole purpose of scamming you. Robocalls can also originate from legitimate companies that don’t follow the law.
Are spam phone calls illegal in the US?
Phone spam regulation in the US has been expanded in the past by the FTC or Federal Trade Commission to include voice spam (spam phone calls) such as robocalls (prerecorded telemarketing calls). Spam phone call regulation dates back to 1991 when congress enacted the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) to regulate the increasing number of marketing calls. The TCPA prohibits making telemarketing calls as well as using an automated telephone dialing systems and robocalls.
In 2012, the FCC amended the TCPA requiring telemarketers to get express written permission from consumers first before robocalling them. The amendment also requires telemarketers to have opt-out mechanisms during robocalls to allow consumers to stop calls.
As a result, not all spam calls are illegal. Legitimate companies can call consumers under certain conditions. For instance, robocalls can be deemed legal if a company must communicate with their clients. The information must be deemed necessary. For instance, credit card fraud alerts, flight cancelations, or updates from schools qualify as necessary consumer information.
Legal charities and market research calls may be annoying since they are meant to solicit information or donations for charity to legally registered entities or causes. However, such calls are legal if callers identify themselves and provide their phone contacts initially before soliciting information or donations.
Why am I getting so many spam calls?
There are several reasons why spam calls are bombarding you. They include:
- Auto-dialers are to blame
- Your phone number is public
- Your social media profiles are public
- Your number is in a call list/s
1. Auto-dialers are to blame
Technological tools like auto-dialers are to blame for most spam calls. Contrary to popular belief, some spam calls are auto-dialed randomly. In such instances, there is no “formula” and calls are made in large volumes without a method of deciding which numbers are called. Auto-dialers call initially to “see” if the number is active. If not, another random number is called. If the number is active, the number is automatically “queued” for a second call during which attempts are made to scam or sell a product. If the scamming or selling attempt is unsuccessful i.e., you don’t answer, you opt-out or your line is busy, auto-dialers are programmed to try again, increasing the number of calls you receive.
2. Your phone number is public
If auto-dialers aren’t to blame, your phone number is probably public. The number of spam calls you receive is usually proportionate to how accessible your phone number is. To find out if your phone no. is public, do a simple search on Google. If you have a website, your number is probably public if you haven’t made efforts to purchase ID protection from your host or domain registrar. Individuals like real estate agents and small to medium-sized business owners tend to have their numbers listed publicly.
Technological advancements make it extremely easy today for call list collection organizations to “harvest” phone numbers that are already public online. Personal information can be scraped easily online and in public databases with landline and mobile numbers, which are usually sold to spam callers.
3. Your social media profiles are public
You could also be receiving a lot of spam phone calls because your social media profiles have a default privacy setting. Social media profiles like Facebook are public by default. You must adjust the privacy settings, or anyone can see your personal information, including your phone number. Check your social media information to see if your phone number is visible to the public.
4. Your number is in a call list
If you took a while to realize the privacy issues surrounding social media, your phone number could be in a call list already, even if your profile is private. A call list can also be compiled offline by legal businesses when issuing offers or when you purchase products. If you have given out your number in a contact form somewhere or opt-in on an offer in the past, this could be the reason you are receiving many spam phone calls. Businesses in the US can make spam calls provided they are within FTC and FCC guidelines.
How to stop spam calls
There are many ways to stop spam calls today. The main ones include:
- Add your phone number on the Do-Not-Call Registry
- Report unwanted calls
- Use spam call blocking apps
- Use built-in phone features
- Use carrier services
- Install call blocking device on your landline
1. Add your phone number on the Do-Not-Call Registry
In 2003, the FCC amended TCPA rules and established a nationwide registry (Do-Not-Call Registry) alongside the FTC covering all telemarketers apart from some nonprofit organizations. The key role of the registry is letting telemarketers know the numbers they shouldn’t call.
The registry applies to intrastate and interstate calls. Since 1st October 2003, the registry has reduced the number of dead air, and hang-up calls consumers receive. There are restrictions on using auto-dialers. Callers also need to transmit caller ID information. If you register your number with the Do-Not-Call Registry, you can reduce the number of spam phone calls you receive significantly. The details on registering and accessing the registry are readily available online.
2. Report unwanted calls
If you receive unwanted calls such as robocalls trying to market something you haven’t opted-in with written permission, such calls are illegal and must be reported. The FTC has a complaint assistant where you can report spam calls. When reporting, give detailed information, including the caller’s number, the number/contact information they gave you, among other useful information to help the FTC conduct investigations and catch the perpetrators behind such calls.
The FTC releases numbers making spam calls to the public every business day to help phone carriers and the public to stop spam calls. FTC investigations also involve law enforcement authorities who help to uncover the identity of the individuals behind these illegal calls.
3. Use spam call blocking apps
You can use apps to block spam calls. Such apps are only a download away. Call blocking apps work like filters. The companies behind the apps use existing databases and call data reports collected from users to filter illegal calls and stop phone call scams.
The best spam call blocker app intercepts spam calls before they reach you. They can stop such calls, direct them to voicemail or allow them to ring silently. Such settings are entirely up to a user. It’s also possible to block calls from a specific area code notorious for spam calling and even create a whitelist or blacklist (list of calls to allow or deny).
You can find spam call blocking apps online in app stores, depending on the OS of the phone you are using. Both Apple and Android phones have app stores with good spam call blockers. To find the best spam call blocker apps, check the reviews of respective apps. You should choose apps with a high rating and a high number of reviews. You can also base your decision on expert reviews.
The United States wireless industry also has a website, ctia.org, with a lot of resources, including highly recommended call blocking applications. The site recommends some of the best Android, Windows, and BlackBerry spam call blocking apps. iOS, spam calling apps are also included in case you are wondering how to block spam calls on iPhone.
4. Use built-in phone features
If you don’t want to download apps on your phone, you can use built-in features. Most cell phones today come with call blocking features you can use to block specific numbers. Smartphones have a variety of features you can use to block spam phone calls and messages.
If you don’t get a lot of spam phone calls, built-in phone features are enough; otherwise, you need to invest in a good app or try other solutions like engaging your carrier.
5. Use carrier services
All United States carriers have call-blocking services you can use for free or at a fee. Carrier services are particularly important when you want to block spam calls on landline phones. Luckily, the FCC has a resource center that lets you know how you can block all unwanted calls, the government resources available to you if you want to take action and consumer organizations you can follow to get the latest fraud alerts.
6. Install call blocking device on your landline
If you want to block spam calls to a traditional landline that doesn’t use VoIP (internet), you can install a call blocking device that resembles an attachment to your phone. The attachment utilizes blacklist databases with known spam callers blocking them from calling you.
It’s also possible to add new spam callers. Some devices may require you to create a blacklist of unwanted calls that can be diverted to voicemail or connected to recordings with options. You can create a whitelist containing the numbers you approve.
Taking legal action
Most people want to stop spam calls because they are annoying. Others may be motivated to stop spam calls because they are victims of identity theft, credit card fraud, international scams, etc. If you are scammed and want your money back, the FTC has a refund program.
In cases where you dispute refunds or need to involve local and state consumer agencies, to report or follow up on spam phone calls that result in fraud, it’s advisable to hire an attorney, preferably an expert in telephone consumer protection (TCPA attorney).