The calls are unending. They range from dubious offers of vacations in the Bahamas to dodgy home repair services, bogus back brace offers and ominous claims that the call recipient has outstanding parking tickets in a state they’ve never visited or that they owe the IRS money and there’s a warrant out for their arrest, and they’ve transformed the phone line from lifeline to nuisance in record time.
According to a recent article in the Orange County Register, the 310 area code receives the highest volume of robocalls in Southern California. The article states that data collected by the Irvine-based voicemail company, YouMail, for the month of July found that residents of the 310 area code “were almost six times as likely to get a robocall as those in Downtown L.A.’s 213.”
The register report found that the average household in Western L.A. County currently receives one robocall every 3.3 days. However, some residents report receiving more than 10 calls a day. This reporter’s record is 18 in one day.
To combat caller ID, robocalls are increasingly made from “spoofed” numbers that appear to be from the same community as the recipient. If the caller can trick their intended victim into thinking the call is from a friend or neighbor it greatly increases the odds that the call will be picked up.
A new onslaught of folksy conversational messages tries to trick call recipients into responding by making it appear they are talking to a human instead of a robot. Variations include: “Oh sorry, ha ha, I’m having trouble with my headset,” or “My lands, you’re harder to catch on the phone than my grandkids with their hand in the cookie jar.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates telemarketing, reports “a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls because internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information.”
The good news is that 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; the bad news is that those 600 companies are just the tip of a massive robocall iceberg.
Robocalls are the number one consumer complaint received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and they are far more than just a nuisance. Victims who fall for robocall scams often find themselves coping with financial loss and identity theft. Many scams deliberately target the elderly.
In July, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined 28 other attorneys general to urge the FCC to block robocalls made from fake or “spoofed” caller ID numbers.
“As families gather around the dinner table each night, they shouldn’t be bombarded by unwanted robocalls,” said Becerra in a press release. “We should be doing everything in our power to eliminate these types of calls, which far too often lead to identify theft and financial loss.”
The proposed rules would authorize carriers to block calls with spoofed caller ID associated with phone lines that do not actually dial out, without violating FCC rules requiring carriers to complete all calls. An additional proposal would authorize providers to block spoofed robocalls when the spoofed caller ID cannot possibly be valid or is not in use by a subscriber.
“The proposed rules are a good, but modest first step toward protecting consumers in California and across the country,” wrote Becerra. “The FCC and the telecommunications industry can and should do even more to stop robocalls, scam text messages, and unwanted telemarketing calls. That includes providing every landline and wireless customer with access to free and effective call blocking tools.”
Registering a phone number with the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry may help to reduce the number of legitimate telemarking calls, but will have little effect on illegal calls.
Robocalls are almost always illegal. The only exception for any type of marketing call is if the call recipient has given the company permission to contact them, and many illegal robo- and telemarketing calls are made with the intent of committing a crime—scamming money or valuable information like social security numbers off vulnerable victims.
Until there’s a remedy for the robocall epidemic, the experts say the best way to discourage robocalls is not to pick up or to hang up immediately once it becomes apparent that it’s a robocall or unsolicited telemarketer on the other end of the line. Attempting to say no, or even asking to be removed from the caller’s list may actually generate more robocalls, and nobody really wants to waste their time trying to talk to “Rachel from card services,” anyway.
Information on the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry and other phone scam information is available at https://www.donotcall.gov.