With the crushing number of robocalls, let’s talk about scam likely calls
It’s no secret that robocalls are on the rise. Most people experience at least a few each week and they always seem to pop-up at the worst possible times. The worst part about robocalls, however, is that you often can’t identify them by number alone.
The typical pattern looks something like this:
*phone rings, you glance at the caller ID.
“Florida? Who do I know in Florida? This better not be that damn Florida robocall again…”
Now starts the debate many of us are all too familiar with.
Should we answer it just in case it’s important? What’s the worst that can happen if we find out it’s a robocall? We can just hang up, right?
Suddenly the phone goes silent.
Should you call them back? What if it was important?
What if we told you the choices you make with this debate can end up costing you a lot of money? And how do you identify which calls are scam likely calls and which are just telemarketing calls?
Down the rabbit-hole we go!
First, what are robocalls?
By this point, we should all be familiar with the concept that robocalls are calls made by computers, also known as ‘robots’ (hence robo-call), and they most frequently play a pre-recorded message to the unwitting person on the other end. You may be surprised to learn that not all robocalls are illegal, nor are all robocalls scams.
Most people associate robocalls with a purely negative viewpoint, but the FCC points out that some robocalls are legal such as political calls; informational calls such as your flight being delayed or public emergencies; and messages from charities. As long as the robot doesn’t try to ‘sell’ you a product or service it can generally be considered legal, despite you never giving express permission to receive the call.
Speaking of selling, robocalls have been evolving over time and the distinction is important.
In 1991, the FCC enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which was aimed to limit automated phone dialers and pre-recorded telephone marketing messages. At the time, the FCC recognized that businesses needed to be able to contact their customers or potential customers with marketing messages, but the individual consumer also needed protection from constantly being called with sales pitches.
Unfortunately, that didn’t exactly turn out as intended.
National Do Not Call Registry
As it turns out, some companies choose not to abide by the terms of the TCPA and the US Federal government was under increasing pressure to create more enforcement options to stop the seemingly never-ending calls.
In 2004, after a number of US states passed their own legislation, the Federal Trade Commission passed the National Do Not Call Registry, which allowed citizens to register their phone numbers on a list that telemarketers were forbidden to call.
The National Do Not Call Registry was an admirable try at enforcement, and for the most part, it worked. With one enormous exception: the only companies abiding by the registry were the ones that operated with something to lose.
The Rise of the Robocalls and Scam Likely Calls
With above-board telemarketing companies now essentially legislated out of existence, and with the rise of internet-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), the more nefarious-minded individuals began the scourge of scam robocalling.
With just a computer, an internet connection and the right software, an individual can send thousands of calls a minute. And by leveraging the nature of caller-id technology, these computer-based calls can appear to come from any number at random.
So why are people making these robocalls? Aside from annoying innocent consumers, what else are they hoping to gain?
That, my friends, is the crux of the matter.
There are two main types of scams at work here, inbound and outbound.
Inbound scams are when the robocall entices an unwitting listener to hand over their personal information or financial information. A famous example is the IRS robocall that surges in popularity around tax time, telling consumers that the IRS is issuing a warrant for their arrest unless they confirm their identity (by providing their social security number).
Outbound scams are more nefarious and require the unwitting consumer to call the robocall number back. These one-ring scams try to disguise themselves as a call that was cut short early, leading the consumer to think “this probably isn’t a robocall, otherwise it would keep ringing.” More insidious, sometimes the person on the other end of the line will say something like “Hello? Hello?….I can’t hear you. Can you call me back?”
These types of scams take advantage of our innate curiosity or our willingness to ‘help’ others.
The financial cost with this type of scam for consumers is that the numbers often appear to be US numbers but are frequently international numbers with 3-digit country codes (so they look like US area codes). Calling these numbers back can result in massive toll fees (from the scammer number) and international charges (from your carrier).
According to a safety-bulletin from the FTC, consumers should never answer, or call back, numbers with the following ‘area’ codes:
- 268 area code – Antigua and Barbuda
- 284 area code – The British Virgin Islands
- 473 area code – Grenada
- 664 area code – Montserrat
- 649 area code – Turks and Caicos Islands
- 767 area code – Commonwealth of Dominica
- 809, 829, 849 area codes – Dominican Republic
- 876 area code – Jamaica
How to Identify Legitimate Calls vs Scam Likely Calls
The short answer is: you can’t. As previously mentioned, scammers can leverage VOIP technology and caller-id spoofing to appear to come from any number, or they will call you from numbers that appear to be local but are really international.
Just answering these calls can put you square into a scam that can take unexpected turns, such as hearing an innocent “I can’t hear you. Can you call me back?”
The important take-away point here is, true telemarketers don’t cold-call consumers anymore. Legitimate public companies do not, and cannot, cold-call consumers as long as they are on the Do Not Call Registry. So, if you receive a call purporting to be from a business you recognize, it’s a scam likely call.
If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, and truly believe the call might be legitimate, run the number through a Google search before calling it back. While not a perfect solution, this may prevent you from calling a number that is known to be from scammers.
Now, to really take your spam prevention up a notch, you can install a call screening app like Spam Fighter. Not only do we maintain a database of known scam numbers (thus taking the Google-search step out of the equation for you), but we can also identify scam-likely numbers for you, so the internal debate over that Florida robocall even even happens.