Fight back against robo-calls
Robo-calls seem meant to drive us bonkers. They come during dinner hour or in the evening when the ringing phone implies a family member or close friend. Only when we say, hello, do we realize we've been had one more time by the obnoxious telemarketer in the cloud.
Robo-calls are part of a scamming universe that targets immigrants who may not have a good command of English, the elderly who are more vulnerable to fraudsters and (these days) the rest of us.
Americans are receiving an estimated 2.6 billion robo-calls a month, according to the Washington Post. That is despite the Federal Trade Commission shutting down three "massive" robo-call centers earlier this year.
So how do we fight the robo-call plague?
Lately, I've been taking the time to block these numbers on my smart phone after each annoying call. So far, I've blocked six numbers and counting.
I've also learned to not answer calls (land line or mobile phone) unless I know the caller. If a caller is legitimate but I don't recognize them, they will leave a voice mail and call back number.
Our global Internet-connected world makes it easy for scammers to operate outside the U.S. but still "spoof" numbers that look local by using a local area code. Those fooled me for a while.
Meanwhile, phone service providers worry that if they shut down a known robo-call number, it may affect an innocent customer whose number has been "stolen," the Post said. The calls, say experts, are nearly impossible to trace.
Robo-call scams come in many forms. Among the latest are:
n Supposed calls from the IRS demanding back taxes, fines and fees that must be sent, immediately.
n Fake Microsoft tech calls asking you to log into your computer and hand over personal info.
n Sales pitches for false extended auto warranties.
n Fraudulent vacation club memberships.
n Credit card rate reduction offers if you send money to what is a fraudulent address.
The IRS says scammers are trying new tricks all the time. Since October 2013, nearly 4,500 victims have collectively paid over $23 million because of tax-related phone scams.
"...scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants and those who speak English as a second language but now the crooks try to swindle just about anyone," said the IRS in its latest warning.
Verizon.com reminds us that robo-calls or any prerecorded telemarketing sale message are illegal (except for political and charitable calls to wireline telephones, even if they are unwanted).
Verizon acknowledges that "there is no perfect fix," but that we can do a lot to fight back.
Consumers should still use the National Do Not Call Registry at DoNotCall.gov to register their phone number(s). And we should use the anti-robo-call tools already on our phones such as Verizon's Caller Name ID and call blocking and other features such as Anonymous Call Rejection.
If you get an illegal robocall:
n Hang up the phone. Do NOT interact with the caller.
n Do NOT call back in order to be taken off the list. That's because calling back can cause you to get more calls because the scammers know you are a real person.
n If you do end up in a conversation with a scammer, never reveal any personal information such as passwords, social security numbers, or account numbers. If you are not sure whether a caller is a scammer or not, remember that legitimate callers don't call asking for personal information. Hang up immediately. Report the call to the FTC at DoNotCall.gov. Information to include: time and date of call, the number that appeared on your Caller ID screen, your telephone number, and a description of the message.
You normally won't see immediate action, said Verizon, but the FTC's complaint database is important because it helps government agencies and companies track illegal callers and come up with new ways to attack the problem.
This is war. Sign me up.
Julia Anderson writes for women about money at sixtyandsingle.com. Her Smart Money show with Joe Smith appears on Beaverton-based TVCTV public television.