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