New videos and guidelines on what to do about robocalls: Internet Scambusters #506
Illegal and scam robocalls are back in the headlines as the number of complaints rockets to more than 200,000 a month.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued new guidelines on what to do if you receive one of these automated, pre-recorded calls and it's organizing a consumer summit in the search for new solutions.
We have all the details, including the FTC's three tips and links to new educational videos, in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
FTC Plans Fall Summit to Tackle Robocalls
One of our pet subjects, robocalls -- automated telemarketing phone calls often associated with scams -- is back in the spotlight this week.
First, as we've previously warned, robocalls are being used to perpetrate one of the most successful ID theft con tricks of recent times.
This cruel trick uses automated calls to tell victims they're entitled to government grants to pay for their utility bills, and then asks for personal details including their Social Security number.
There is, of course, no such grant program. Instead, victims end up out of pocket when their bank and credit card accounts are rifled by the crooks.
Other robocall tricks we've seen recently include calls claiming to come from Google, which eventually connects victims to high-pressure sales people selling bogus interest rate reduction services and extended warranties.
Robocalls are also commonly used to try to sell home security systems and dubious loan modification programs.
By coincidence, the utility grants scam reached its peak just as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was unveiling plans to clamp down further on robocalls.
In fact, the FTC, which recently returned $3.2 million to extended warranty robocall victims, is so worried about the alarming increase in the use of automated messages, it has called a special summit meeting for later this year to try to identify new solutions.
As we mentioned, the number of complaints about robocalls the Commission receives now exceeds 200,000 a month, more than three times the level seen a couple of years ago.
"Consumers are getting more robocalls than ever," the Commission says. "Technology is the reason: Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.
"Using its enforcement authority, the FTC has stopped companies responsible for billions of illegal robocalls that have offered fraudulent credit card services, so-called auto warranty protection plans, home security systems, and grant procurement programs.
"We're continuing aggressive law enforcement efforts, pursuing innovative strategies to gather evidence against robocall kingpins, producing consumer education, and hosting a public summit on October 18, 2012, for consumer groups, legitimate industries, technologists, policymakers, and other stakeholders to develop solutions to the rapid rise in illegal robocalls."
The summit will be held in Washington DC and will be open to the public.
We predicted this worrying surge in automated calls in an earlier issue, Triple Threat of Robo Call Torture, highlighting the current state of the law and the fact that even legitimate robocalls will likely increase in the run-up to the Presidential election in November, since political parties are allowed to use them.
Now, the FTC has issued a new set of guidelines and educational videos to help people understand how to deal with robocalls, many of which come from overseas, or use fake caller ID so as to appear to come from a legitimate caller, or are made over the Internet (but still to landlines or cellphones) so they're untraceable.
In simple terms, a robocall is one that uses a recorded message instead of a live person.
With a few exceptions (charities as well as political parties -- see our earlier article) these are illegal, and there are three key things the Commission says you should do if you receive a recorded sales message:
- First, just hang up. Often, calls invite you to press a number -- usually a "1" -- supposedly to put you through to a live operator.That may or may not happen but, as soon as you press a key, you've identified yourself as a potential victim and, if nothing else, you'll start getting a lot more calls.Sometimes, pressing a key connects with a premium-charge number or other scam project, like the utility grants one we mentioned earlier.
- Second, says the FTC, think about contacting your phone company and asking them to block the number.However, some phone companies charge for blocking numbers. If they do, it's probably not worth paying because robocall scammers often change their numbers. So ask first if there's a charge.
- Finally, report the incident to the Do Not Call Registry on their website or by calling 1-888-382-1222.This will help in the quest of tracking down the crooks.
In the first of the two new videos, "Robocalls Gone Wrong," FTC attorney Kati Daffan warns that crooked robocallers don't use the Do Not Call registry to screen numbers.
"If a company doesn't care about obeying the law," she explains, "you can be sure they're trying to scam you."
The videos, both viewable and downloadable, are listed on the FTC Robocalls page.
They are also posted on the FTC's YouTube channel. This channel is worth bookmarking anyway. It contains more than 70 helpful FTC videos.
In the coming months, there's no doubt we'll not only be hearing more about robocalls but, as election fever ramps up, receiving more of them.
In the meanwhile, let's hope the FTC summit can come up with some new and effective ideas to beat the robocalls -- we need a break, and a breakthrough!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!