Briefing

What's being done to stop the robocall scourge

Stop calling, stop calling, I don't wanna talk anymore

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it ordered U.S. phone companies to "take all necessary steps" to avoid letting robocalls about scam auto warranties go through. In 2021, the FCC received over 12,000 complaints about these fake auto warranty calls — more than any other unwanted call category. Here's everything you need to know:

What is a robocall? 

Robocalls are phone calls made with autodialers that deliver recorded messages. Political candidates can use robocalls to spread their message quickly to a lot of people, as can businesses that want to give reminders of appointments or upcoming events. A robocall that tries to sell something is illegal, unless the person being called has given written permission to be contacted. There are a variety of scam robocalls being made, with examples including a caller claiming to be with the IRS or pretending to offer debt relief. The FCC said over the last two years, it has received the most complaints about scam auto warranty robocalls.

What is the FCC doing about these scam auto warranty calls?

The FCC's Robocall Response Team said in a statement last week that U.S. phone carriers have been ordered to stop carrying robocall traffic from an operation known to be marketing scam auto warranties; the prerecorded messages ask people to follow prompts in order to speak with a "specialist" about their vehicle's warranty, and they are then encouraged to extend their nonexistent contract. The typical goal of these calls is to get a person to share their credit card or debit card information.

The FCC says the calls are coming from a ring run by Roy Cox Jr., Aaron Michael Jones, their Sumco Panama companies, and several international associates, with this operation believed to be responsible for more than 8 billion illegal calls to Americans since 2018. The FCC said it sent cease-and-desist letters to eight carriers that are carrying these calls, and none have responded.

"We are not going to tolerate robocall spammers or those that help make their scams possible," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. "Customers are out of patience and I'm right there with them." The group is also under investigation by the FCC's Enforcement Bureau and is being sued by the Ohio Attorney General.

How many robocalls are made in the U.S. every month?

In June, more than 4.3 billion robocalls were placed nationwide, the software developer YouMail Inc. found, with an average of 13.2 calls per person. This was an increase of 8.5 percent from May. The volume of calls was about the same as it was in June 2021, YouMail stated, despite the FCC telling carriers last year that they needed to implement authentication technology to stop robocalls. YouMail says Atlanta was the top target, with an estimated 184,991,700 calls received, followed by Dallas with 164,524,200 calls and Chicago with 137,540,500 calls.

How can you block spam calls?

Fast Company recommends trying these three things: First, see if your carrier has a free anti-spam app, and download it — Verizon's is called Call Filter, AT&T's is ActiveArmor, and T-Mobile's is ScamShield. If the free options don't work, there are also third-party apps available to purchase, like Robokiller. Next, make sure your number is on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry. As Fast Company notes, this will definitely keep some unsolicited marketing calls away, but "it relies on whoever's making the calls to play by the rules." Finally, if you find yourself dealing with a very persistent spammer and use an iPhone or Android device, you can manually block their number.

How can you avoid phone scams?

Don't answer calls from phone numbers you do not recognize. If you do pick up, do not give out any personal information, like your Social Security number, passwords, or account numbers. If you hear a person or recording say to hit a button if you want to stop receiving calls, hang up. If you get a call from someone who says they are with a government agency, find out if it is legitimate by hanging up and calling back with the number you found on their official website. Scammers are also trying to trick people via text messages; never click on a link sent by a phone number you do not recognize or respond with personal information. To file a complaint with the FCC about a phone or text scam, visit the Consumer Complaint Center.

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