The Robocall Epidemic: How You Can Protect Your Information And Fight Back

Hand holding a cell phoneIf your phone rings today, chances are, it’s probably spam. New research suggests you’ll get more than one robocall inthe next 24 hours. If you do decide to pick up, you’ll more than likely be greeted by a familiar computerized voice playing a pre-recorded message. These automated calls, which can end up in your voicemail box, usually contain official-sounding, personal, and even alarming instructions. Watch out, because often, these spam calls claim to be a company, insurer, or bank you do business with. You’ve probably noticed you’re getting way more of these spam calls now than at any time in recent years — a trend that will unfortunately continue. A new report from the telecommunications firm First Orion says that by next year, half of the mobile phone calls we get will be spam.

One of the more malicious forms of robocalling, a tactic known as “neighborhood spoofing,” disguises calls by mimicking your local 3-digit area code to appear safe and personal. With predatory spam & scam calls on the rise, major insurers, phone companies, and the Federal Communications Commission are warning consumers to protect their information. Below, we’ve listed some of the steps you can take to combat being a recipient of these calls and how to protect your information if you think you’ve fallen victim. First, here are some of the most common scams, according to a report by AARP:

The IRS scam

The voice on the other end of the line claims to be an IRS criminal investigator. Arrest is imminent if you don’t immediately pay thousands of dollars in back taxes. Individuals are instructed to put $500 on multiple iTunes gift cards and give up the 16-digit codes. Don’t be fooled. The IRS would never ask a taxpayer to buy iTunes cards for any reason.

Computer Caper

Internet scam artists create little boxes that pop up on your computer screen, telling you that you have a virus and need to call for technical support. Don’t believe it. Computer companies never notify customers of a problem through pop-ups, unless it is from virus-protection software that you installed.

The Fake Sheriff

You get a call from someone posing as a sheriff’s deputy claiming you’ve missed jury duty and owe the county a $1,000 fine. Pay immediately, the caller says, or you will go to jail. Rest assured, no sheriff or court will call you and demand payment like this for missing jury duty. If you get this call, hang up, then call the police and report it

Lottery Fraud

A con artist calls and tells you that you have won the Australian (or Jamaican) lottery. All you have to do to collect is wire $1,500. Don’t do it. Lotteries never call to give money to people who haven’t even bought a ticket.

Credit Card Con

You get a call from your bank that there is a problem with your account. To straighten it out they need your account number, date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number. Hang up. This is a scam to get information to hack your account.

Sign up for AARP’s scam alerts to stay apprised of the latest ways that crooks are trying to steal your information. Here in Alabama, Blue Cross and Blue Shield said in a release this month that they’ve received a wave of complaints about malicious robocalls claiming to represent the company. Blue Cross has advised that they “do not make outgoing calls to verify or update your personal information.”

If you believe you’ve given out any personal information to a fraud, monitor your credit card bills frequently. Call your bank and credit card companies to put a fraud alert on all your accounts with the three major credit reporting firms: Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. If you bank online, place alerts on each of your accounts to be notified by email or text of any transaction. Be ready to report any unauthorized activity.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent robocalls from getting to your phone in the first place. As a first-line defense, you can sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, which requires for-profit businesses to remove you from their list within 31 days. (Or alternatively, you can call 1-888-382-1222 from the line you wish to remove). Smartphone users can install apps such as RoboKiller and Truecaller to help detect and block unwanted calls. All 4 of the nation’s top phone carriers, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint offer tools to stop robocalls as well.

On the other hand, there are limits to all of these utilities. Third-party call blocking apps can be ineffective when it comes to spoof calls, since they only blacklist known scammers — failing to accounting for legitimate numbers that have been temporarily hijacked. The Do Not Call Registry doesn’t prevent spam from illegal carriers who have no problem ignoring and avoiding the list. While email spam filtering has improved dramatically over the years, mobile phones have some catching up to do.

The downsides to this trend are endless. Those who fall victim to fraud wind up with serious financial consequences. The FTC reports that the median loss from a phone-based scam in 2017 was $720. Americans each and every day have trouble telling the difference between calls from real people they know and the crooks who wish to defraud and steal from them. Hopefully, soon this form of illegal marketing will become obsolete, but until then, the best way to guard against it is knowing your resources and remaining vigilant.