When Do Not Call doesn’t seem to work, here’s how to hide from scam­mers, spam­mers and robo­callers

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Ta­mara Chuang Pro­vided by T-Mo­bile

Q: In 2012, I reg­is­tered my cell and lan­d­line with the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion’s Do Not Call Registry. I’ve been re­ceiv­ing robo­calls and un­wanted texts on my cell­phone, and re­cently on my lan­d­line, for the last year, mul­ti­ple times per day. Many are from the same num­bers. Each and ev­ery time, I sub­mit a com­plaint us­ing the FTC’s “Re­port Un­wanted Calls” form. What else can I do? — Nancy, Estes Park

Tech+ Keep com­plain­ing. Enough peo­ple com­plained about robo­calls from Dish Net­work that the FTC, the De­part­ment of Jus­tice and four states sued the Dou­glas County satel­lite TV ser­vice.

In June, Dish was slapped with a $280 mil­lion penalty be­cause of robo­calls. It was a long process, how­ever. Ac­cord­ing to the FTC, it took eight years of “te­na­cious lit­i­ga­tion” al­leg­ing Dish made more than 66 mil­lion il­le­gal calls that vi­o­lated the Do Not Call Registry. But the gov­ern­ment didn’t get close to what it asked for: $ 900 mil­lion in fines; four states also sought more than $110 mil­lion. (For its part, Dish blamed con­trac­tors for the bad be­hav­ior. Dish is ap­peal­ing.)

How­ever, even if the feds “win” a case, that doesn’t mean com­plain­ing con­sumers get a cent.

Ac­cord­ing to Mitchell J. Katz, with the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice, many vi­o­la­tors don’t pay up be­cause they say they don’t have the money. Any money that is col­lected of­ten goes straight to the U.S. Trea­sury for the na­tion’s bud­get. But when fraud is in­volved, au­thor­i­ties try to dis­trib­ute funds to the af­fected con­sumers.

Katz pointed to a re­cent case in­volv­ing In­for­ma­tion Man­age­ment Fo­rum, which made un­so­licited tele­mar­ket­ing calls to time­share own­ers. In ex­change for pay­ing up to $2,000 in regis­tra­tion fees, the com­pany falsely claimed it had buy­ers for the owner’s time­share, ac­cord­ing to the FTC re­port. As a re­sult, the FTC mailed 338 checks, aver­ag­ing $945 each, to af­fected time­share own­ers. To find out more about re­cent FTC re­funds, go to ftc.gov/re­funds.

Since the Do Not Call Registry be­gan in 2003, the FTC has worked with the Jus­tice De­part­ment to file 131 cases against vi­o­la­tors, re­sult­ing in or­ders to pay fines of $1.2 bil­lion, as of May 2017. Of that, ap­prox­i­mately $71.4 mil­lion was ac­tu­ally paid.

And of that amount paid, more than a third — $24.9 mil­lion — was from robo­call­ing vi­o­la­tors. (Tele­mar­ket­ing robo­calls be­came il­le­gal in 2009.)

Of course, with an av­er­age of 10 cases filed a year since 2003, the FTC’s pur­suit of Do Not Call vi­o­la­tors and other tele­mar­ket­ing of­fend­ers seems pretty mea­ger. Katz said that while the agency goes af­ter the big­gest of­fend­ers, ev­ery com­plaint counts. In fact, start­ing this month, the FTC be­gan shar­ing ev­ery com­plaint pub­licly so phone com­pa­nies and con­sumers can see the list of robo­call­ing phone num­bers. The goal is to get the data out there and en­cour­age com­pa­nies to find new so­lu­tions to this an­noy­ance. See the daily list at dpo.st/donot­call­data.

But for a more im­me­di­ate re­sponse, there is newer tech­nol­ogy to cut down on po­ten­tial spam call­ers.

• YouMail (youmail.com) of­fers a free block­ing ser­vice that tells robo­callers, “This phone num­ber is out of ser­vice.” The mes­sage ap­par­ently tricks the auto-di­aler from call­ing your num­ber again. Users can also black­list spe­cific num­bers so those go di­rectly to voice­mail. It works with mo­bile phone num­bers, and home and busi­ness lines.

Alex Quilici, YouMail’s CEO, said the ser­vice was orig­i­nally de­signed to stop ex-boyfriends and ex-girl­friends from call­ing. Then the Irvine, Calif., com­pany re­al­ized it also was ef­fec­tive against tele­mar­keters, debt col­lec­tors and other num­bers deemed an­noy­ing. Users also can sub­mit sus­pect num­bers. Enough complaints and the num­ber will be added to YouMail’s bad list.

What­ever tech­nol­ogy con­sumers use to mon­i­tor calls, Quilici’s best ad­vice is this: “The big­gest sin­gle thing to stop robo­calls is to change con­sumer be­hav­ior and not an­swer the phone.”

Be­sides YouMail, here are other ser­vices that could cur­tail the amount of tele­mar­ket­ing and robo­call­ing spam:

•No­morobo (No­morobo.com), which won the FTC’s Robo­call Chal­lenge in 2013, of­fers

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a sim­i­lar ser­vice to stop robo­calls from reach­ing your ears. Es­sen­tially, phone calls are routed both to the user and No­morobo, which susses out whether the call is spam. It’s free for land­lines and costs $1.99 per month for each mo­bile de­vice.

•Hiya Caller ID and Block is a mo­bile app at hiya.com that was spun out of Whitepages in Seat­tle last year. It, too, checks a data­base to iden­tify and block robo­callers, tele­mar­keters and debt col­lec­tors. Also, it de­vel­oped soft­ware to search for pat­terns in calls. Users can sub­mit un­wanted num­bers to Hiya’s data­base.

•T-Mo­bile of­fers a ser­vice to its cus­tomers called “Scam ID and Scam Block” that iden­ti­fies when a caller is po­ten­tially scammy and spammy. Since rolling out the fea­ture in April, the com­pany said it has iden­ti­fied or flagged 243 mil­lion calls. And good to know: peak hours are late af­ter­noon on week­days. The ser­vice is also avail­able to MetroPCS cus­tomers.

• Check with your phone com­pany to com­plain and see what tools it may of­fer. Ver­i­zon says it mon­i­tors its net­work to de­tect spikes in sus­pi­cious calls and then works with law en­force­ment to shut those down. Its Caller Name ID adds a spam block that vis­ually warns users of po­ten­tial robo­callers. AT&T pro­motes No­morobo, while Sprint is us­ing a ser­vice pro­vided by Ce­quint’s Call Guardian from a com­pany called TNS.

If I were you, Nancy, I would stop an­swer­ing the phone — es­pe­cially from un­fa­mil­iar num­bers. Let friends and fam­ily know they should leave a mes­sage be­cause you’re mon­i­tor­ing calls.

The only way for us to re­ally end robo­calls is to not an­swer the phone. If you in­ad­ver­tently pick up, hang up!

And if it irks you enough, then keep com­plain­ing to the FTC at complaints.donot­call.gov/com­plaint/com­plaintcheck.aspx and register your num­ber with the Do Not Call Registry ( donot­call.gov), You can also register by call­ing 1-888-382-1222.

Go on­line to get easy ac­cess to all the links men­tioned here at dpo.st/2hlBWcU.

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