What to do if you are inundated by robocalls

CLEVELAND – “We’ve been trying to reach you concerning your car’s extended warranty.”

This is the beginning of an all-too-common robocall. Or a prerecorded phone call. Or software that dials the numbers using a database or randomly dialing numbers. By one estimate, there’s been close to 1.8 billion such calls in Ohio already this year.

Some of these calls are wanted, like a reminder of a doctor’s appointment. Many are not. For most people, these unwanted calls are a giant nuisance. In the worst cases, they can be costly, or scam an unsuspecting person into sharing personal information.

“That tends to be people with lower socioeconomic status and older people who are more trusting and respectful,” says Marc Dann, Ohio’s former attorney general now in private practice. “Being respectful isn’t necessarily a strength in trying to deter people from giving you unsolicited robocalls because they’ll see that as an opportunity.”

Ohioans last month received more than 300 million robocalls, costing them more than $181 million, according to Robokiller, a service that specializes in blocking unwanted calls and text messages. Among those, 32.4 million calls went to Cleveland. While that’s a lot, it’s not as bad as Southeast Ohio’s 740 area code, identified by Robokiller as the fifth most targeted area nationally, with 55 million calls.

The projected 3.6 billion robocalls Ohioans will receive this year is up slightly from the last couple of years, meaning they aren’t going away.

But what are we to do? And didn’t the government put rules in place to stop this? The answer, in short, is that yes, there are new restrictions to help out, but there are also things every consumer can do to limit the onslaught.

What’s the law?

Congress passed the bipartisan TRACED Act, requiring phone companies to install technology to identify robocalls by June 2021. This is done using a standard technology called STIR/SHAKEN, which helps phone companies determine whether a potential spam call should be blocked or flagged.

Phone companies can implement this technology in different ways. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Spectrum, and US Cellular all have their own version of robocall protection. Reach out to your provider to learn more.

Regulators are also requiring smaller phone companies to implement this technology by 2023 but all 50 state attorney generals, including Ohio’s Dave Yost, have pushed for this to happen by June 2022 instead. However, many communications companies have only partially complied.

Additionally, Yost recently filed suit against one robocall operation his office alleges is responsible for 8 billion illegal robocalls since 2018, mostly about auto warranties, which prompted more than 1,600 complaints to his office.

There is an acknowledgment that more can be done. Yost and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel recently hosted the National Association of Attorneys General 2022 Robocall Summit in Detroit, allowing state and federal partners to share experiences, resources, and expertise on the problem.

For individuals, there is potential to litigate against robocallers if they feel like they are violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. You can be awarded up to $1,500 per call; however, you must prove that the robocalls are intentional and not negligent. But there’s a reason you don’t hear about this much.

“For a lawyer to take on the case, they’re gonna want you to have multiple calls,” says Dann. “You’ve got to have 10 calls from the same people, especially if you told them you revoke your consent to the call.”

And while $1,500 per call can begin to add up, it will take a lot of calls to cover legal fees.

Use the tools you already have

Here are some tips to take advantage of the laws in place:

– The best way to avoid getting more robocalls is simply not interacting with them. This includes not answering the phone if the number is unknown to you, something 80% of cellphone owners already do, according to the Pew Research Center.

Answering calls confirm to robocalls that a real person is on the other end of the line, and will only increase the number of calls you will receive in the future.

– Register to the Do Not Call Registry. It’s important to know that the DNC list only applies to sales calls like telemarketing, so it will not filter out every robocall. However, if you suspect there is a violation of the DNC list, you can file a complaint on donotcall.gov. You can also report these calls to the state attorney general. In Ohio, most complaints are for imposters, reducing debt, or healthcare and prescriptions.

– Report illegal robocalls to the FCC and the FTC.

Unlock Phone Capabilities

Besides blocking phone numbers one by one or setting phones to “do not disturb,” phones have other methods to help filter out unwanted calls.

-iPhone: The iPhone iOS allows you to be unavailable to all numbers not on your contacts list. Go into your settings, navigate to “phone,” and tap on the “silence unknown callers” option.

-Android: To block unknown numbers on an Android device, go into your settings, navigate to “block numbers,” and tap on the “block unknown callers” option.

-Google Pixel: The screen of a Google Pixel phone will automatically turn red when a robocall or spammer is trying to contact you. If it is not active, go to settings, navigate to “spam and call screen,” select “call screen”, and then toggle on “Automatically screen and decline robocalls.”

Additionally, these phones come with a screen call feature, where Google Assistant will answer the call to identify your number. A transcript of the call is then provided to you to determine legitimacy, sort of like a text version of a voicemail.

-Landline: If you use a traditional landline, you can buy and install a call-blocking device, which is a smart box that attaches to your phone and uses a blacklist database to identify robocalls. If your phone can receive calls through the internet, you can contact your service provider and ask what options they have to prevent robocalls.

Install Third-Party Apps

Multiple third-party apps are designed to combat robocalls. The following apps can be downloaded for both Apple and Android devices.

-Hiya: Available for $3.99 per month, Hiya has auto spam detection, reverse phone lookup, spam-check dialer, and blacklists numbers. Hiya also owns Mr. Number, which has similar offerings and costs.

-Nomorobo: Available for $1.99 per month, Nomorobo blocks robocalls, telemarketers, spam texts, and phone scammers from calling your phone

-Robokiller: Available for $3.99 per month, Robokiller has a blacklist, plays back blocked calls, and has a continuously updated spam list

-Truecaller: Available for $4.99 per month, Truecaller identifies and blocks spam calls and texts and maintains a community-based spam list.

-YouMail: Available for $4.99 per month, YouMail blocks and blacklists unwanted callers, sending them directly to voicemail.

If you do answer a call…

– Do not provide any personal information like your name, phone number, or Social Security number.

– If you are told that you are a victim of fraud, you’re behind on taxes, or your grandchild is in jail, call someone you trust before doing anything else. Get their advice, determine legitimacy, and make an educated decision together.

– If the caller wants you to take immediate action or pressures you in any way, hang up.

– If you are told to press a button to be removed from the call list, hang up. This tactic confirms that a live person is using your phone and that more calls can be directed your way.

– Avoid saying the word “yes.” Your conversation is likely being recorded, and scammers can use the affirmation for fraudulent activities.

– Do not call back. You may incur high rates for potentially overseas calling numbers and invite more robocalls by confirming a real person is at your number.

– Do not purchase gift cards to pay bills. A common scheme is to ask you to send gift cards to help with the IRS or post bail. These services do not accept gift cards.