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5 ways to stop robocalls now

These tips will stem the flow of illegal calls. Meanwhile, the FTC is offering a $50,000 prize for a permanent solution.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 24, 2012 3:22PM

This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site logoWould you like to know how to stop robocalls -- those annoying automated phone calls that interrupt you at home or work with a recorded message?


Image: Pink phone © Fuse/Getty ImagesSo would some 17,000 consumers who live in Indiana who took the time to file a complaint with the state. And so would the Federal Trade Commission, which is offering a $50,000 grand prize to the person who comes up with the best solution for blocking illegal commercial robocalls on land lines and cellphones.


Why are these calls so common? The same technology that makes it possible for us to call just about anyone anywhere in the world cheaply also makes it possible to annoy, harass or scam anyone anywhere in the world -- and often to do so anonymously with little fear of being caught or stopped. Using autodialers, they can call thousands of households a day.


And these calls aren't just annoying -- they can be downright dangerous.


Pindrop Security reports that there were more than 1.6 million fraudulent calls placed between January and September 2012. Callers often impersonate legitimate organizations in an effort to get personal information from victims, then use it to commit identity theft.


One of the ways scammers accomplish this is by "spoofing" the source of the call through caller ID. They make it look like they are calling from a local number, for example, even though they may be across the country or overseas. Or they will use a spoofed caller ID number to make the call appear to be coming from a bank or credit card issuer.


"Right now, you can get an app and pretend to call your friend from the White House," says Matt Anthony, the vice president of marketing for Pindrop Security.


Fraudulent calls are a lucrative endeavor, netting fraudsters some $10 billion annually, the company says.


Clamping down on phone scammers

Many robocalls are illegal. The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule offers three general levels of protections to consumers, explained agency program manager Will Maxson in a presentation at the FTC Robocall Summit held Oct. 18.


The first is the National Do Not Call Registry, which consumers can use to opt out of most marketing calls. The second is internal do-not-call lists that companies and charities must maintain with contact information for consumers who have asked not to be called again. Finally, the FTC points out that most robocalls are prohibited except when a consumer has given his or her written permission to receive them.


Plus, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.


Note that debt collectors, one of the main sources of robocall and autodialer complaints that we receive on the blog and forum, are not subject to the Telemarketing Sales Rule. It is also legal for political campaigns and charities to make robocalls to your land line without prior consent.


Cellphone customers have extra protections. "Wireless is different," said David Diggs, vice president of wireless Internet development for CTIA, in his presentation at the summit. All robocalls to cellphones, except for emergency purposes or where there is "prior expressed consent of (the) called party" are prohibited. He pointed out that there is no exemption for political or charitable organizations.

How to stop robocalls now

There is no failsafe tool for stopping these calls today, primarily because it's so easy for scammers to fake the location from which they are calling. Adam Panagia, director of AT&T Network Fraud Investigations, said in his presentation, "There are currently no available solutions in the public switched telephone network that completely eliminate (caller ID spoofing)."


And, of course, criminals here or abroad don't care whether they are breaking the law. All they care about is collecting cash without getting caught.


However, there are some ways you may be able to cut down on the number of calls -- at least until some genius comes up with that winning idea for thwarting them altogether.

  1. Never respond to a robocall. The FTC warns not to "press 1 to speak to a live operator and don't press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls." That's because the company calling will now know it has reached a working number, or a "live" prospect.
  2. Don't give out personal information. If you do get an unsolicited call from a company you do business with and the person on the other end of the line starts to ask for personal information, tell him or her that you will not give out any more information until you verify the call is legitimate. If the caller claims to be from your bank, for example, say you will call back at the phone number on the bank's website and ask for the caller's extension, Anthony advises.
  3. Asking your phone company if it can block the number is another piece of advice the FTC offers. But don't be surprised if it doesn't help for long. The firms that place these calls can spoof phone numbers or change the number they are "calling from" frequently. Pindrop Security says the "worst offender we track used 12,552 phone numbers in the first three quarters of 2012." Plus, you may have to pay a fee for call blocking. Verizon charges $3 a month for Anonymous Call Block, for example.
  4. Put technology to work for you. Check out services that can help you screen, block or report annoying or harassing robocalls. Google Voice, which I used, gives you a free number that allows you to screen calls. The Privacy Star app helps you control calls to your cellphone (free trial, 99 cents to $2.99 a month afterward) and Primus Telecommunication Canada offers a free service called Telemarketing Guard designed to require telemarketers to announce themselves before the call will go through.
  5. Report these calls. The FTC encourages you to report your experience to them online via the agency's National Do Not Call Registry or at (888) 382-1222. Also consider reporting these calls to your carrier. For example, Verizon's Unlawful Call Center phone number is (800) 257‐2969.

How do you deal with robocalls? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.


More from and MSN Money:

Oct 29, 2012 1:07PM
If you want to stop these calls then you need to dry up their revenue source. Your phone company is charging you a fee for caller ID. Your phone company pays the scammer for sending the caller ID information. Your phone company pays only a fraction of a cent per call and you pay $5 to $15 to your phone company. The scammers send out millions of calls per day which amounts to a significant amount of money however your phone company is charging a large amount to millions of customers. This may have something to do with their inability to stop these calls.
In order to stop this we need legislation making it illegal to charge for caller ID. If a phone service wishes to operate it would need to provide the caller ID at no charge as part of the service. Here is the $50,000 solution that the FCC is looking for and it doesn't cost anything. There is an excellent blog site that I found that explains how one company is getting away with this activity.
Oct 24, 2012 6:58PM
I have caller ID, therefore unrecognized calls are not taken.  Secondly they never leave a msg.
Jan 27, 2014 4:38PM
This is the wort part of having a job where you have to answer phones all day.
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