By Kathleen Connell
A presenter at a recent conference I attended started by asking, “Who answers their phone anymore?”
The question brought giggles and quips. “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message,” someone said. But common was this reply: “I only answer if a name appears and it is someone I know. Which is most of the time.”
Feels like most of the time it’s an annoying and brutally persistent call from nobody. That is, computer- generated marketing calls, aka, robocalls. The device that has changed the world now seems indispensable. But as a phone, it has been compromised by marketers and, too often, crooks out to rob us.
The most irritating new twist is called ‘ID spoofing.’ This is the trick that marketers use to make you think, “Hmm. This isn’t an 800 number. It’s from Warwick. Better answer. Could be someone I know or a business opportunity or a neighbor reporting my dog is loose.’
And it turns out to be a robocall.
Something needs to be done. The top law enforcement officers across the country – including Rhode Island -- are going to war to end automatic robocalling and ID spoofing.
Attorneys General are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to tighten rules against those practices. Rhode Island AG Peter Neronha is one of them.
“Telephone scams, robocalls, and spoofing techniques that accompany them are a serious concern for Rhode Islanders, especially for our older community members who are often targeted,” Neronha tells ARRP. “I recently joined Attorneys General from 54 states and territories in supporting the TRACED Act, which will work to combat these predatory acts. Our Office will continue to provide education, assistance, and prevention efforts in this area going forward.”
According to an Ohio newspaper report, proposed new rules could expand existing rules on spoofed caller ID calls to cover companies outside the United States calling American citizens as well as expand the type of services that existing rules cover.
The problem is enormous, with 18 billion robocalls placed in 2018, which is more than double from the previous year. Many are scammers who cost consumers an estimated $488 million last year. The most notorious scam is the fake IRS call and its starts with a robocall.
Don’t count on a fix anytime soon.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network reports that illegal robocalls make up a fast-growing share of phone traffic, making it all the more important to be on guard for automated scams. Please take a moment to review what Fraud Watch advises.
· You receive an automated sales call from a company you have not given consent to contact you.
· A prerecorded message tells you to press “1” or some other key to be taken off a call list.
· The message offers you goods or services for free or at a suspiciously deep discount.
· The message says you owe back taxes or unpaid bills and face legal or financial consequences if you don’t pay immediately.
· The message says you've won a big lottery or sweepstakes prize and tells you to press a key or call a number to claim it.
· Hang up on illegal robocalls.
· Add all your numbers to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. It won’t stop fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers won’t call numbers on the registry.
· Explore free and low-cost call-blocking options, such as apps and services that screen calls and weed out spam and scams. Ask your phone service provider if it offers any such tools.
· Verify the caller. If the robocall claims to be from, say, Social Security or your bank, hang up and look up the real number for that entity. Call and ask if they contacted you.
· Report scam calls to the local authorities. Every report helps authorities piece together a fuller picture of what scammers are doing.
· Review a company’s privacy policies before you give it permission to call you. You might be authorizing them to share your contact information with others.
· Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. The FCC recommends letting them go to voicemail.
· Don’t press any keys or say anything in response to a prerecorded message. This lets scammers know yours is a working number and will lead to more spam calls.
· Don’t follow instructions to “speak to a live operator.” This will likely transfer you to a call center for an aggressive sales pitch or a phishing expedition.
· Don’t judge a call by caller ID alone. Scammers mask their location by tricking your phone into displaying a legitimate government or corporate number, or one similar to your own (a practice called “neighbor spoofing”).
And here’s a final Do from me: Check out the AARP Fraud Watch Network (www.aarp.org/fraudwatch), a free service for members and non-members that provides information and alters to protect you from scams and identity theft. You can’t be too careful.
This story is provided by AARP Rhode Island. Visit the AARP Rhode Island page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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