Strike back against robocalls


By Mike Festa, State Director, AARP Massachusetts

Mike Festa

Robocalls—autodialed calls that play a recorded message when you answer—have legitimate uses. But as the technology has gotten cheaper and more sophisticated, scammers have noticed. Since 2016, the volume of calls has increased from just over 29 billion to nearly 48 billion calls in 2018, and one in ten (11 percent) adults surveyed has fallen prey to a telephone scam at some point. According to the Federal Trade Commission, phone scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year alone.

According to a new AARP survey, an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults find robocalls “annoying” (94 percent) and “disruptive” (90 percent) but few are taking action to protect themselves.

When deciding to answer a call, most of us rely on caller ID, but we rarely answer a call with no caller information. To get you to pick up the call, scammers use “spoofing”: They fake the area code or the prefix that appears in your caller ID to make the call seem local and make you think someone you know is calling. More than half of U.S. adults (59 percent) surveyed said that they were very or somewhat likely to answer a call with a local area code, and almost half (44 percent) said they’d probably answer a call with an area code and prefix where family or close friends live.

Once you answer, you get a recorded message with some incentive to act quickly, without thinking. U.S. adults surveyed are more likely to respond to calls with some negative message, such as credit card (39 percent) or identity theft (29 percent).  More than half of respondents (51 percent) said that they would likely ask for more information in a negative scenario threatening a loss of some kind.

To fix the problem, of course, the scammers will demand a credit card number, bank account number, or some other information they can use to ruin your day—or worse.

Though they find the calls annoying, most respondents (77 percent) do not use a robocall blocking service or report telephone scams to authorities (84 percent).

Ironically, many recipients of robocalls (and other unsolicited sales calls) think they’re wasting the caller’s time by keeping them on the line for a while. But in fact, when the call records are reviewed, it looks like you were interested — a close sale, if you will — and so you might graduate to another list to be called again.

To protect yourself, here are a few actions you can take:

The good news? Help may be on the way, including a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to pass the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, created to deter criminal robocall violations. AARP endorses the TRACED Act, which would require service providers to adopt smart call authentication technology and expand the powers of the Federal Communications Commission to levy civil penalties against robocallers. The bill also would promote interagency cooperation to address the robocall problem.

Learn how to spot and avoid illegal robocalls and other scams. Sign up for biweekly Watchdog Alerts on the AARP Fraud Watch Network.