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Federal Trade Commission offers tips on handling robocalls

Updated February 27, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers the following information about robocalls and how to handle them.

What Is a Robocall?

If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that is a robocall.

You may have received robocalls about candidates running for office or charities asking for donations. These types of robocalls are allowed. However, if the recording is a sales message and you have not given your written permission to receive calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. In addition to these phone calls being illegal, the pitch they deliver is most likely a scam.

Why Has There Been a Spike in Robocalls?

The answer to this question is technology. Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost. The companies that use this technology do not bother to screen for numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry. If a company does not care about obeying the law, the chances are higher that they are trying to scam you.

What Is the FTC Doing About Robocalls?

During the last few years, the FTC has stopped billions of robocalls that offer everything from fraudulent credit card services and auto warranty protection to home security systems and grant procurement programs. Tracing these calls is not easy for the following reasons:

  • Many different companies use the same or very similar recorded messages.
  • Robocallers fake the caller ID information that you see on your phone. This is called caller ID spoofing, and new technology makes it very easy to do. In some cases, the fraudulent telemarketer may want you to think the call is from your bank or another entity you have done business with. Sometimes, the telephone number may show up as "unknown" or "123456789." Other times, the number is a real one belonging to someone who has no idea his or her number is being misused.
  • Robocallers often place calls through internet technology that hides their location.

What Should You Do If You Receive a Robocall?

If you get a robocall:

  • Hang up the phone. Do not press "1" to speak to a live operator or any other number to get your number off of the list. If you respond in any way, it will most likely lead to you receiving more robocalls.
  • Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number if one showed on your caller ID. Ask if your phone provider charges for this service. Keep in mind that telemarketers change caller ID information frequently, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.

What Pre-Recorded Calls Are Allowed?

Some prerecorded messages are permitted, such as messages that are purely informational. This means that you may receive calls to let you know your flight has been canceled, to remind you about an appointment or to inform you about the late start of a school day. However, the business that is calling is not allowed to promote the sale of any goods or services. Pre-recorded messages from a business that is contacting you to collect a debt also are permitted, but messages offering to sell you services to reduce your debt are not allowed.

Other pre-recorded calls that are allowed include political calls and calls from certain healthcare providers. For example, pharmacies are permitted to use pre-recorded messages to provide prescription refill reminders. Pre-recorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are allowed if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.

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