Consumer Scams

Telemarketers and the Battle to Combat Unwanted Calls

Whether you have a land line or a cell phone, the problem is the same – the constant barrage of phone calls from those intent on selling you a product, stealing your money or soliciting contributions.  We get calls from actual people and even more robocalls with recorded messages.  We are all fed up with the situation and frustrated with feeble efforts to stop the onslaught of calls.  This article is intended to outline federal efforts to control unwanted calls and provide tips to help you manage the calls you receive.

What is Telemarketing; What are Robocalls; and Why are We Getting More Every Year?

Everyone knows what telemarketing is – selling goods and services over the phone.  Once upon a time, telemarketing was largely confined to local businesses calling customers about servicing cars and appliances the customer had purchased.  Occasionally, businesses would call about upcoming sales promotions, or solicitors would call to request charitable contributions for the policemen’s ball or other charities. 

In the past 25 years, things changed.  Telemarketing became big business with huge call centers and hundreds of employees.  Time shares, vacation deals, replacement windows, roof repair – the list is endless.  People began getting multiple sales calls every day.  Then, things got worse.  Robocalls arrived.

Any time you answer the phone and hear a recorded message rather than a live person, you’ve received a robocall.  Robocalls have made telemarketing, solicitation, and telephone scams easier and cheaper for the originator.  There is no need to hire and pay hundreds of telemarketers to make calls.  They simply record a message with a return number to call and program the “autodialer” to randomly dial phone numbers.  Autodialers can generate thousands of phone calls per minute at a very low cost.  All they need are a few employees to handle the return calls from the gullible.  It is a cost-efficient system that creates big headaches for consumers and government.

No one disputes that consumers are getting more and more unwanted calls every year.  Some analysts estimate that U.S. consumers received more than 2.4 billion robocalls every month in 2016, and the numbers have increased in the past 2 years.  Why?  Technology has enabled retailers and scammers alike to make calls more efficiently and more cheaply than ever before. 

“Spoofing” has been a huge boon to scam artists.  Spoofing allows a scammer to mimic a number of a friend, legitimate business, or even a government agency.  The spoofed number leads victims to believe they are dealing with a legitimate business or government agency.  For example:  most people have heard of the IRS scam.  You get a call purporting to be from the IRS and threatening criminal action unless you call the number given and pay by credit card.  The scam worked because the criminals selected and used legitimate IRS phone numbers. These numbers are designated for internal or computer use and don’t have the capacity to dial out.  Because the phone numbers come up as real IRS numbers, victims fall for the scam.

Many Robocalls Are Illegal.

The majority of robocalls we receive each day are illegal.  If a recording is a sales message and you have not given your written permission for the seller to call you, it is an illegal call.  There are some groups that are permitted to use robocalls to contact you.  Charities and political candidates are exempt from the prohibition.  Another type of exemption covers things like messages from your doctor reminding you of an appointment, a pharmacy calling to say a prescription is ready, or your child’s school calling to inform you that school is closed for a leaky roof or a snow day.  Of course, scam calls are always illegal.

What are the FCC and FTC Doing to Combat the Problem?

In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new rules to curb robocalls.  The new rules allowed phone companies and cellular carriers to proactively block calls that are most likely to be fraudulent.  Calls coming from particular types of phone numbers alert phone companies of the potential for fraud.  An example would be those IRS numbers used by scammers that are designated for internal use and not capable of making outbound calls.  Other examples include numbers with invalid area codes and numbers that have never been allocated to a phone company or cellular carrier.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also passed new rules in 2017.  The new rules make 3 major changes in what telemarketers are permitted to ask you over the telephone. 

          1.  It is now illegal for telemarketers to ask for any sort of cash to cash transaction like wiring money through Western Union or MoneyGram.

          2.  It is illegal for telemarketers to ask you for pin numbers from cash reload cards.

          3.  Telemarketers may no longer ask you for an unsigned check to be used to pull money directly from your account.

The new rules require robocallers to get your written permission before they can call you to sell a product or service. 

Yet, new rules and regulations have done little to curb telemarketing and robocalls.  For law enforcement, it is like a giant game of whack a mole.  The government arrests and prosecutes one illegal telemarketer, and four new ones spring up in his place.  With calls coming to consumers from all over the globe using spoofed and fake phone numbers, it is an impossible task.  We must be our own best defense.

What We As Consumers Can Do to Help Ourselves.

First, if you haven’t already done so, sign up on the do not call registry.  In 2003, the FTC started the do not call registry.  You can sign up on line at:  www.donotcall.gov.  The registry is free of charge.  Most legitimate companies honor the do not call registry, so signing up should eliminate most unwanted calls from legitimate sources.  You can also use the website to report unwanted, illegal calls to the FTC.  Your registration does not expire. If you register a new number and the old one is disconnected, it will automatically be deleted from the list.  Signing up should eliminate calls about vacation packages and window replacement deals, but you will still get illegal robocalls.

You can buy devices that screen or block calls, but that costs you money.  The best advice is not to answer if you don’t recognize the phone number.  If you mistakenly ignore an important call (like your accountant or doctor), they will usually leave a message.  If you happen to answer a robocall, hang up.  Never press buttons that connect you to an operator or to opt out of the call.  Pressing buttons only leads to more calls.  Report the call to the FTC.  The more reports government agencies receive, the greater the imperative to devote resources to the problem.

I know these solutions sound pretty lame, but the best advice anyone can give you is “don’t engage.”  I get an average of 6-8 robocalls a day.  I have tried blocking the number of each call as it comes in, but it just rolls over to a new number.  Now, I simply don’t answer unless I know who is calling.  I have all my doctors programmed into my contacts.  That way, the name comes up on the call, and I know to answer. 

Resources

www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0198-telemarketing-sales-rule

www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0259-robocalls

www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/complying-telemarketing-sales-rule#comply

www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0108-national-do-not-call-registry

www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/12/whats-national-do-not-call-registry

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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