Robocalls are annoying at best, and potentially costly at worst. And they’re becoming more frequent. One call-blocking company estimates Americans received 48 billion robocalls in 2018.
Government agencies and phone companies are responding to consumer frustration by vowing to take meaningful action, but that will take time, and it may never eliminate all unwanted calls. Consumers must take action themselves to avoid falling victim to scams.
Automated phone calling systems are getting more sophisticated, for instance, by making it appear the call is coming from a government office such as the Social Security Administration. Other illegal marketing calls appear to come from a local number or one somewhere else in the state, when the real source may be overseas.
If you have a smartphone, you already have some tools to protect yourself. If the number isn’t in your saved contacts, you can just ignore it. If it’s a legitimate call — say, from a physician’s office or a business notifying you that your order is ready — the caller will leave a voicemail message. If no message appears, you can reasonably assume it wasn’t a legitimate call.
If you answer the call and it’s a scam — a recorded voice telling you you’ve won a free cruise, for instance — you can hang up and block the number from ever calling you again. Scammers get around this by using different numbers, but at least it slows them down.
If you have only a land line, and you don’t have caller ID — which is true of many seniors — it’s tougher to combat the scourge. The best recourse in that situation is to simply hang up. Never give anyone your address, Social Security number or other identifying information over the phone.
A rash of scam calls pretending to come from the Social Security Administration has local residents on edge. Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann described the sophisticated scheme in a story on Monday: Callers claim to be Social Security employees, and the calls may appear to come from the Social Security office of the inspector general’s fraud hot line. But that office says its employees do not place outgoing calls from the toll-free hotline.
There is hope on the horizon. Last week, 12 telephone companies announced an agreement with all 51 state attorneys general aimed at combating robocalls. The companies will provide free call-blocking technology to customers, implement technology to authenticate calls and monitor networks for robocall traffic.
You can be sure the scammers will respond by coming up with new ways to evade this technology and continue to prey on unsuspecting consumers. That’s why it’s essential that everyone becomes their own best defender: Just hang up.