An Echo Press Editorial: Here's how to beat robocalls
Have you been getting a lot of phone calls lately from Bangor, Maine or San Jose, California or some other city where you don't have any family or friends?
Or does a local cell phone number appear on your caller ID that matches nothing in your contacts?
You're not alone. You're a target of robocalls.
Back in 2003, the National Do Not Call Registry was created and it was effective at cutting down the number of unwanted phone calls — typically from telemarketers hawking everything from magazines to health care plans. But those kinds of calls have been rising since around 2010. According to USA Today, Americans received 3.3 billion robocalls this April alone.
"This is an evolving problem," said Susan Adams Loyd, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "The bad guys are constantly changing their tactics, but consumers can learn new tricks too."
Although the Do Not Call Registry isn't perfect, the BBB says it's worth the effort to register your numbers — cell phones too. To register by telephone, call 1-888-382-1222. You must call from the phone number that you want to register. It only takes a minute or two. To register online (donotcall.gov), you'll have to respond to a confirmation email. Registrations never expire. Once you add a number to the Do Not Call Registry, you do not need to register it again.
Here is some other advice from the Better Business Bureau to limit your exposure to illegal robocalls:
• Let calls from unknown numbers go to voicemail. Though there's always that curiosity to know who's calling you — and why — letting unknown callers go to voicemail weeds out many potential problems. People who need to speak with you will leave a message.
• Know about spoofing. Scammers have technology that lets them alter — spoof — the information that appears on your caller ID. They can make it look as though a call is coming from the government or a hospital, when in fact it's just another scam attempt.
• Watch out for neighbor spoofing. Scammers know people are more likely to answer calls from within their own telephone prefix. Hold fast to this rule: if it's an unfamiliar number, don't answer. Answering such calls may only lead to more robocalls.
• Consider robocall-blocking technology and features. In addition to apps that you can install on your cell phone, you can also take advantage of services your phone company might offer or equipment you can purchase and connect to your landline.
• Know the rules. If the pre-recorded call you receive is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. If you receive calls in violation of the Do Not Call Registry after your number has been on the Do Not Call list for 31 days, they should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov or 1-877-382-4357.
• Avoid calls that show up as "Cardholder Services." Calls that offer to "reduce the interest rate" on your credit card have been going around for years. The offers sound good, but only lead to trouble and potential fraud.
• Student loan forgiveness calls are problematic. People who have student loan debt may get robocalls saying that their loans can be forgiven. Such calls are often lead-ins to offers for expensive loan consolidation services, which people can seek on their own, for free. There are student loan forgiveness programs but they're very specific and relatively few qualify.
In addition to reporting robocalls to the FTC, BBB encourages the public to report them to BBB Scam Tracker, as well, to warn others about their experience. For more fraud alerts and marketplace news, visit bbb.org.