Robo call harassment set to rise in 2012: Internet Scambusters #473
Robocall companies delivering automated, pre-recorded messages can make our lives a misery. But watch out because things are about to get worse.
Call firms who ignore the law, proposals to allow robocalls to be made to cell phones and a busy election year mean that 2012 could see more of these irritating calls than ever.
In this week's issue, we explain the current law, the latest proposals, and what actions you can take to limit the impact of robocalls.
Triple Threat of Robocall Torture
The 2012 elections, proposed new legislation and a huge outbreak of illegal telesales activity have brought the vexed subject of robocall makers to the forefront again in recent weeks.
Robocalls are those automated messages we receive at all times of the day urging us to take action -- whether that's casting our votes or buying something we probably don't want.
Pre-recorded telemarketing calls usually focus on things like changing your utility service provider, debt consolidation, extended healthcare coverage and vehicle warranties.
Many of these are illegal, which we explain below.
And some of them come from overseas or via the Internet, concealing the caller ID so the victim has no idea where they originate from.
As things stand at the moment, the law is fairly clear on what robocallers can and can't do.
Here are the rules:
- If you're on the Do Not Call Register (see more on this below), robo-call firms can't contact you, unless you've either given them written permission or they're calling on behalf of political or charitable groups.
- If you're not on the Do Not Call Register, they still need your written permission to send a robocall to your phone, even if you already have an established relationship with them.That's right. Since 2009, businesses have to get your written permission to make automated calls to you with a pre-recorded message.Not only that but any firm that does call you must give you some key information.The recording must identify the caller and include contact details.Some states even restrict political calls, though these attempts have been successfully challenged in the Federal Court system in the past.
- Until late 2011, the law was clear: Robocalls cannot be made by anyone to cell phones unless you've given what the FTC calls "express permission" to a company to make them.
- However, in November 2011, an Act was introduced by Nebraska Congressman Terry Lee that would allow robocalls to be made to cell phones.As you can imagine, this is a political and consumer hot potato in which the truth often gets blurred.The Congressman is adamant that telemarketing robocalls would still be banned but, with 40% of Americans now using cells as their primary or only phone, he thinks it's time for others -- politicians for instance -- to be allowed to call them.And since this is going to be a busy election year -- and robo call companies are already advertising their political services online -- that could mean quite an assault on our cell phones!The act, if it ever becomes law, would likely come in to force some time in 2012.
But a couple of things we would point out are that, first, whether these are telemarketing calls or not, cell phone recipients could end up paying to receive them unless they have unlimited minutes on their phone plan.
And second, because we carry our phones with us pretty much all the time -- at home, in the car and at work -- robocalls to mobiles would seem to be much more intrusive than regular landline calls.
What You Can Do About Robocalls
Sadly, the bottom line is that if an incoming robocall is illegal and you cannot identify the true source of the call, you can't stop it coming in.
The best you can do is hang up.
Of course, you could switch off your landline ringer at certain times but that means you also wouldn't get urgent calls.
For now, you could do this and just tell those who are near and dear to you to call your cell in emergency. But, as we've suggested, that may not be an option in the future.
If you don't want these types of calls, you should definitely list your number with the Do Not Call Registry or call 888-382-1222.
If you have a complaint, you should also contact the Registry.
Apparently, the FTC, which oversees the service, receives 140,000 complaints about robocalls every month, so don't expect a personal reply.
On the other hand, the FTC did recently return $3.2m to victims of a robocall auto warranty scam.
In addition, you might consider contacting your phone company. After all, they're delivering these robocalls to your phone and might be able to do something to track down and halt abusers.
There's also a non-profit citizens' movement to try to restrict political robocalls, run by activist Shaun Dakin. It claims to have more than 200,000 members.
He has set up a National Political Do Not Call Registry, and his website also runs a petition opposing the new cell phone robocalls proposal.
Dakin's register has no legal authority, and, in the last elections, only a handful of campaigning politicians observed it.
Finally though, for the longer term, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to let your state and federal political representatives know how you feel -- not just once but every time you receive an unwanted robocall.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.