Robocalls are becoming increasingly common, and also increasingly annoying. As the number of robocalls goes up, the number of complaints people have put in against them has risen as well. Complaints have been received by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), including the local and state law enforcement agencies, as well as a variety of nationwide consumer organizations. This has led to the creation of various help guides to show people what their rights are in terms of robocalling.
What Is a Robocall?
If your phone rings and upon answering, you hear a recorded message and not an actual person, then you have received a robocall. You have probably already received several times this kind of call. Whenever a new candidate runs for office, their numbers go up. Charities looking at increasing the number of donations they can get also regularly use robocalling methods. These types of calls are all allowed and within the law.
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However, there are also robocalls that are used to make sales telephone calls. These calls are also allowed, but only if you have given your express written permission to receive telephone calls from the actual company that is phoning. If not, the call is completely illegal. Not only are these calls illegal, there is also a big chance that their sales pitch is actually a scam.
Why Are Robocalls on the Rise?
It is believed that the reason these calls are on the rise is because technology is developing and advancing. It is now so much easier for a company to use an auto-dialer with a prerecorded message. These auto-dialers can literally make over 1,000 calls a minute and they cost almost nothing. Companies that use auto-dialer technology usually do not screen the telephone numbers they use with the National Do Not Call Registry. If your telephone number is registered there, and you still receive a sales-related robocall, you can almost guarantee that you are dealing with some sort of scam.
How the FTC Is Helping
The FTC has been fighting for years to stop the nuisance of robocalls. They are very aware of the fact that these types of calls are usually related to scams, such as auto warranty protection, fraudulent credit card services, grant procurement programs, home security systems, and more. Unfortunately, the FTC is essentially playing a cat and mouse game and it is incredibly difficult to determine who is one step ahead: the FTC or the scammers. There are a number of reasons as to why this is such a hard job.
One of the main difficulties is that the exact same, or at least highly similar, recorded message can be used by multiple companies. The caller ID information that is shown on a screen’s phone is almost always fake. This is a tactic known as ID spoofing. Unfortunately, new technology makes caller ID spoofing incredibly easy nowadays. A fraudulent telemarketing company may spoof the ID so that you think you are receiving a call from a legitimate organization, such as a business you often work with or your bank. It can also happen that the number comes up as ‘123456789’, or even simply as ‘caller unknown’. It is even possible that somebody’s own telephone has been hacked and that the number is being misused without his or her knowledge. Finally, a robocall is usually made using some type of internet technology. If the scammer also uses a proxy server, as they usually do, it is impossible to determine where they are actually based.
What to Do If You Receive a Robocall
- Hang up. Never fall for the ‘press 1 to speak to someone’ option that they may give you, nor for the option to press a number in order to have your contact details removed. If you do press any of those numbers, it is likely that your details will actually be shared with others, giving you even more robocalls.
- Speak to your telephone operator. If you have the number that you were called from, you can ask them to block it. However, because telemarketers tend to change their caller ID number, if they have one at all, this is not a permanent solution. Additionally, if your operator charges a fee for blocking numbers, it isn’t worth it.
- File a complaint with the FTC. You can also telephone them on 1-888-382-1222.
What About Permitted Robocalls?
There are a number of robocalling messages that are perfectly within the law, such as purely informational messages. This means that it is allowed by law for you to receive information on flight cancellations, delayed school openings, reminders about an appointment, and so on. However, whoever makes this type of telephone call is not allowed to promote any type of service or goods. Debt collectors are also allowed to send prerecorded messages to ask you to pay a debt. However, robocalls that advertise debt reduction services are not allowed under the law.
There are other exceptions. For instance, certain health care providers are allowed to send robocalls. Pharmacies, to name but one example, are allowed to use a robocall to remind you to have a prescription refilled. Similarly, charities, telephone carriers and banks are allowed to use prerecorded messages. However, they are only exempted if they themselves make these telephone calls. Finally, political calls are allowed to be robocalls.
Rules to Be Aware of on Robocalls and Robotexts
Some important rules that you have to know about in order to understand your rights include:
- You can stop telemarketing calls by listing your number with the Do Not Call registry. This register protects not just landline telephones, but also wireless telephones.
- Robocalls to wireless telephones that do not relate to an acute emergency, be they a telemarketing or an informational robocall, can only be made if you have given them your express permission. These include polling, political and other non-telemarketing related robocalls.
- A robocall tends to use autodial capacity, as well as a pre-recorded or even artificial voice to make the call.
- Robocalls and robotexts have the same protection as any other calls under FTC rules.
- There are no legal barriers in place for telephone companies to offer their consumers the ability to stop robocalls from coming through. All telephone operators are encouraged to use this type of technology by the FTC.
- If you have previously given permission to a company to robocall or robotext you, you are entitled to rescind that permission. If a company tells you that you can only revoke consent in a mailed form, they are not being truthful.
- Having a commercial relationship with a business or agency is not the same as giving someone permission to robocall or robotext you.
- Businesses are not allowed to require permission to robocall or robotext as a condition of sale or of any other kind of commercial transaction.
- If a robocaller dials a wrong number, this is only allowed once. They must then update their list. This can happen if someone did give permission for his or her number to be used, but then changes the telephone number and the old one is reassigned to a different user who has not (yet) given consent.
- The only robocalls that can be made without having received prior consent are health and fraud alerts. However, these calls must be completely free and a consumer must be able to say ‘stop’ at any point during the message in order to cease the recording.
- All consumers have been provided with a private right of action by Congress, which they can use to take action against any caller that violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. Additionally, the FTC is very proactive when it comes to sticking to the rules within that Act, regularly taking action after receiving complaints from individuals.
Consumer Resources to Help You Take Action
There are plenty of things and options available to you to avoid receiving robocalls and robotexts. These include:
- Speak to your telephone carrier and ask them whether they have some sort of robocall blocking technology in place. The FTC has recently given legal approval for this type of technology.
- Make sure your telephone number is registered on the Do Not Call registry list.
- Let your telephone carrier know about any calls you receive that are able to circumvent the Do Not Call registry or the carrier technology. This will help them to find out where the calls are coming from and from what part of the system.
- Tell the caller that you haven’t given your consent to receive such calls. Keep a record of the calls you receive, including the numbers, dates and times. File this with the FTC. Remember that you are protected because you can only receive telemarketing robocalls if you have given consent.
- You have been empowered by Congress to take legal action against robocallers if you so choose.
How to File a Complaint
The best way to file a complaint against robocalling is through the Federal Trade Commission or through the FCC or Federal Communications Commission. All complaints filed with the FCC are also used to monitor and analyze trends, can be used in investigations, and help to guide enforcement efforts. You can also telephone the FCC on 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL Videophone: 1-844-432-2275, or write to them, with as much detail about the issue as possible, at:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554