Woman sitting in car, answer robocalls on cellphone

Are Robocalls Ruining Your Routine?

November 6, 2019

Be aware of scams and fraudulent activity.

Whether you’re a business owner or an individual, your time is valuable. No one wants their productivity or cherished downtime to be interrupted by an unwanted call, delivering unrequested information by someone you don’t know…or not even someone at all, but a robot.

We’ve all experienced robocalls – those automated disrupters that stop your train of thought dead on the tracks. Although it may only take a few seconds of your time to answer politely, hang up, breathing a heavy sigh and roll your eyes so hard you fear a headache may result – but in those few seconds you’ve lost your place, lost your mojo, lost your Zen, lost direction….you get the point.

Robocalls have become an epidemic. Nearly 48 billion of them — 146 for every person in America — were placed nationwide in 2018, up 57 percent from 2017*.

Illegal robocalls include telemarketing spam (automated sales calls from companies you haven’t authorized to contact you) and attempts at fraud and theft. Prerecorded messages dangle goodies like all-expenses-paid travel or demand payment for nonexistent debts to get you to send money or give up sensitive personal data.

Have you answered calls because the caller ID displayed a local number? Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their true location, making it appear that they’re calling from a legitimate or local number to increase the odds that you’ll pick up. If you do, the robotic voice on the other end might claim to represent a utility, a name-brand company or a government agency (Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service are popular poses). It might offer you a free vacation, cheap health insurance or a low-interest loan. It might claim you’ve won a lottery so if you play, don’t be fooled! It might tell you to press a particular key to learn more, or to get off a call list.

Whatever the message, don’t engage! Doing so can lead you to someone who’ll pressure you to make a purchase or pump you for personal information, like your credit card or Social Security number.

It’s important to note that many robocalls are legal. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows them for some informational or noncommercial purposes, such as polling, political campaigning and outreach by nonprofit groups.  Your doctor’s office can robocall you with an appointment reminder or an airline with news about a flight change.

But illegal robocalls make up a fast-growing percentage of phone traffic, making it all the more important to be on guard for automated scams.

Beware of pre-recorded messages that do the following:

  • Come from a company you have not given consent to contact you
  • Request that you to press “1” or some other key to be taken off a call list
  • Offer you goods or services for free or at a suspiciously deep discount
  • State that you owe back taxes or unpaid bills and face legal or financial consequences if you don’t pay immediately.
  • Declare that you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes prize and instructs you to press a key or call a number to claim it.

What you should do:

  • Hang up!
  • Register all your numbers to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. It won’t stop fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers won’t call numbers on the registry.
  • Explore free and low-cost call-blocking options, such as apps and services that screen calls and weed out spam and scams. Ask your phone service provider if it offers any such tools.
  • Verify the caller. For example, if the robocall claims to be from Social Security or your bank, hang up and look up the real number for that entity. Call and ask if they contacted you.
  • Review a company’s privacy policies before you give it permission to call you. You might be authorizing them to share your contact information with others.

What you should not do:

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. The FCC recommends letting them go to voicemail.
  • Don’t press any keys or say anything in response to a prerecorded message. This lets scammers know yours is a working number and will lead to more spam calls.
  • Don’t follow instructions to “speak to a live operator.” This will likely transfer you to a call center for an aggressive sales pitch or a phishing expedition.
  • Don’t judge a call by caller ID alone. Scammers mask their location by tricking your phone into displaying a legitimate government or corporate number, or one similar to your own (a practice called “neighbor spoofing”).

* YouMail call-blocking and call-management services. The company estimates that 40 percent of automated calls are fraudulent.