Recently at the BBB office, we’ve received complaints from consumers about phone calls their caller ID said were from very recognizable local businesses, schools or other organizations – names like such as Tom Ahl, Bath Schools, General Dynamics and even the sheriff’s office.
Believing these were legitimate phone calls, the consumers answered, only to realize they had been the target of a scam robocall. While these fraudulent phone calls can be harmful to the consumer, they can also damage the reputation and trust of the local businesses and organizations.
The use of local phone numbers and business names is a recent phenomenon. Shrewd scammers have long used sophisticated equipment to “spoof” where their phone calls were originating, for example the IRS or a well-known bank, knowing victims would be more likely to answer.
The fraud generated from these unwanted phone calls amounts to about $9.5 billion annually. Using the latest technology in autodialers, an estimated 98 million robocalls are made daily, with more than 3 billion placed last month alone! In addition to the tremendous volume of calls, the new equipment also makes it very easy for scammers to appear to call from anywhere in the world and hide behind fake IDs.
As consumers, what are we to do?
• Your cell phone is a good place to start. Most phones have a number-blocking feature that allows you to deflect numbers you’ve found to be scams. A few phone makers now offer built-in alerts on many of their latest devices. The Google Pixel lights up your screen with a red warning telling you it’s a spam call and not to answer. An upgrade will soon make it even better by sending spam calls directly to voicemail, so you never have to answer them.
If you have an Android phone, you can download the Google Phone app and get the same features. Samsung phones, starting with the Galaxy S7 and the Note 8, include Smart Call, a feature that alerts you if the number is known to come from a robocaller.
• Use software that blocks robocalls. Nomorobo is a tool you can use to block unwanted calls. Its technology identifies and answers robocalls, so they don’t get through to you. It is free for landlines and $1.99 a month per cell phone. Other robocall blocker options are Hiya, Mr. Number, RoboKiller, Truecaller and YouMail.
• Wireless carriers hate robocalls too and have apps of their own to stop spam calls. The good news is they are free with your plan.
• The Do Not Call registry is something you may try as well. It often feels like it doesn’t help much, since crooks just ignore the law, but this gives the good guys at least one more way to fight the bad guys.
• Even though the caller ID may appear to be from someone local and you’re not expecting it, it’s not a bad idea to just avoid the call and let it go to voicemail. You can judge if the voicemail seems to be suspicious. If you feel you must call back, double check the legitimate phone number on the organization’s website and call that number, not the one given in the robocall message.
• Never, never talk to a telephone solicitor that calls you, whether it’s a robocall or a live person. All you’ve done is confirm you are a live person who will answer the phone.
Robocallers only need a small percentage of victims to answer their scam calls to be profitable. It’s a sheer numbers game, and the risk of being scammed goes up when you answer these calls.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.