Have you ever gotten a call from an unknown number only to be greeted with a clearly pre-recorded message trying to sell you something or encourage your vote for a certain candidate? These “robocalls” are exactly what they sound like - automatic calls to your landline or cell phone where no one is actually calling you.
Is it legal for people to robocall you?
There’s always someone behind robocalling, whether it’s a campaign headquarters or a marketing firm, and the legal guidelines are different depending on which it is.
Telemarketing calls trying to sell you something are almost always illegal - unless you agreed to be called by physically or digitally signing some consent. (This may be included in those “terms and conditions” I know we all read before accepting.)
Non-marketing calls like charitable or political calls, however unwanted, are usually legal in most states.
Why is it so popular now?
Robocalling has increased in popularity now because technology has made it very easy and inexpensive for companies to use this type of marketing while hiding their identity. Much like spoofing, robocallers use all kinds of methods to get you to answer your phone, such as using the same area code or even stealing someone else’s number for their schemes.
Because telemarketers have abused the technology to deliver unwanted and frequently deceptive messages, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has prohibited robocalls unless the recipient has given their written permission. To get around this requirement, scammers spoof caller ID, hoping the recipient will pick up because the phone number or area code looks familiar.
What do I do if I get one of these calls?
If you are subject to an unwanted and illegal robocall, there are two things you should always do.
Don’t engage in the call. Hang up immediately and do not call back demanding to be taken off a list. If you do this, it could result in even more calls as the scammers now know you are real and you will answer.
Report the number to the FTC at DoNotCall.Gov to help shut down the robocaller.
Are there ways to avoid getting these calls?
In short, yes. There are several things that you as the customer can do to help limit these calls such as:
Putting your name and number on the National Do Not Call Registry at DoNotCall.Gov. By doing so, this makes any telemarketing calls to your number immediately illegal.
To prevent being scammed by a robocall, the FCC recommends that consumers avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. Should you be fooled by caller ID spoofing, simply hang up. If the prerecorded message suggests the call recipient opt out of future calls by entering a specific digit on the phone's keypad, it is likely to result in more calls. As of this writing, the most effective deterrent to receiving undesired robocalls is to download a mobile call-blocking app or use the VoIP providers' call-blocking option.