FTC Action Against Robocall Epidemic Reminds Consumers of Vigilance


If epidemics existed in the digital world, 2018 would’ve been the year of the robocall epidemic. The estimated 47 billion of robocalls made in the U.S. alone last year is not only a gigantic statistic –it’s also a 56.8 % increase from 2017. Behind the towering numbers lie over $9 billion lost by Americans to robocall scams and millions of people whose identity fell prey to scammers.

With phone scams growing by the day and projected to reach around 60 billion by the end of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and its partners have announced new and tough measures against known robocallers. The robocall crackdown became a major hope for U.S. consumers and their privacy.

FTC’s “Operation Call it Quits” blasts nationwide robocallers

In light of towering concerns about money and identity theft, on June 25, 2019, the FTC announced a major crackdown of robocallers in the U.S. Partnered up with the U.S. Justice Department, the FTC and partners brought a total of 145 cases against violators responsible for making over a billion robocalls across the United States. It also brought multimillion dollar fines against four nationwide robocalling companies.

The violators include companies and individuals responsible for selling scam money-making opportunities (Online Entrepreneur Academy scam), developing illegal leads for third party companies (Media Mix 365 scam), selling supposedly “free” medical alert systems to seniors (Lifewatch, Inc. scam), and providing credit card interest reduction “services” (Life Management Services scam), all for the purpose of stealing consumers’ money and identity.

Most of the above violators used fake or “spoofed” caller ID to trick consumers into trusting the number and positioned their products as recommended by national organizations.

Watch out for these signs of scam robocalls

As long as you own a phone, you’ve definitely encountered and suffered the nuisance of robocalls. From real companies calling to heap upon you unwanted services to shady organizations just waiting to grab hold of your private information, robocalls are everyone’s nightmare.

It’s not just trusting seniors whose savings are in danger. These days, scammers have become so cunning and tech-savvy, they can trick almost anyone by manipulating our most vulnerable side.

In a just-out press release, the FTC mentions the most popular scam methods used by robocallers:

  • Using a local area code from your neighborhood
  • “Spoofing” or basically hijacking someone’s local number (think: your friend or colleague) and using it for scam purposes without the real owner ever knowing about it
  • Presenting themselves as government organizations such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
  • Presenting themselves as banks to collect debt
  • Robocalls meant to sound “human” and sell medical products

The field of action for robocallers is growing as well. According to a recent study, robocall scams to watch out for are (from most to least popular):

  • Health/health insurance scams
  • Interest rate scams
  • Student loan scams
  • Money-making scams
  • Travel scams
  • Tax scams
  • Business scams

FTC advice on how to stop robocalls

To stop robocalls for good, the FTC provides several important instructions on preventing both sales robocalls and scam robocalls on landlines, mobile phones, and VoIP numbers.

To stop telemarketing calls from legitimate companies: register your landline, mobile, or VoIP number with the National Do Not Call Registry. Within 30 days, this will remove your number from sales lists which means you won’t be bothered by unwanted sales pitches from real companies. However, you may still receive political, charity, debt collection, and informational calls. The National Do Not Call Registry is a great way to cut down on robocalls by itself but will not stop illegal scammers from contacting you.

To stop illegal scam calls on a landline or mobile phone: scam calls can be stopped via call blocking services. On landlines this is a call-blocking device while on mobile phones it’s an app that can be downloaded for free or at low-cost. This will allow suspicious calls directed to your phone to be terminated or sent to voicemail.

To stop illegal scam robocalls on a VoIP number: VoIP, or virtual numbers provide the best protection from the most cunningly designed robocalls. On a VoIP number, auto-attendant and phone menus are regular features that come at no extra cost. Even the simplest phone menu with options like “press 1 to talk to …” and “press 2 to leave a voice message” is enough to stop robocalls. As a robocall is, well, a robot (however human it may sound) that connects you to a person only later on in the chain, scammers won’t be able to get through to you if you have a simple phone menu. Additionally, VoIP providers offer black list features that allow you to automatically eliminate calls from any suspicious numbers. Find out more on how you can use VoIP to stop robocalls.

Final word

Modern technology + personal vigilance remain the best antidote to falling victim to identity theft or losing your money to scammers. If a robocaller does get through to you, do not to press any digits on your phone, including an option to be “removed from the list”. Simply hang up as soon as possible. This will stop your number from being placed on additional robocall lists or sent to a so-called “hot-list” of consumers who’ve shown any interest in the robocallers’ campaign.

After dropping the call, report the robocall at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. This is also the FTC’s official website where you may file a complaint on identity theft and register your number(s) in the National Do Not Call Registry.

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