Robocalls: 5 Tips to Stop Them

August 31, 2013 Updated: September 5, 2013

Prerecorded sales calls are flooding the phone lines, pushing an unsolicited hard sell for debt reduction, home security, or some so-called free offer. 

Believe it or not, nearly all telemarketing robocalls have been illegal since September 2009. Despite a National Do Not Call Registry, and the threat of a $16,000 fine, robocall complaints doubled from 2010 to 2012, according to federal regulators.

With an ear toward consumer outrage, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives approximately 200,000 robocall complaints every month. According to Bikram Bandy, FTC’s Do Not Call program coordinator, the steep rise in robocalls has caused some consumers to doubt the effectiveness of the Do Not Call Program. 

“Please do register. It won’t solve the problem, but it will help,” said Bandy.

“By registering your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry, consumers receive less telemarketing calls than they would otherwise,” he said. “There are lots of legitimate companies that respect the list, but there are also lots of companies that do not respect the list.”

While regulators have taken action against dozens of Do Not Call list disrespecters, and have managed to stop billions of robocalls, they can’t keep up with evolving technology. From devices that can spam-dial thousands of phones per minute, to overseas call centers that fake caller ID information, Bandy said that telemarketers have access to resources that weren’t available just a few years ago.

“It’s easier and cheaper to blast out millions of calls with a relatively small amount of technical knowhow,” he said. 

Here are a few tips to stop robocallers—or at least slow them down.

Hang Up/Don’t Touch Anything: 

So you’ve been called a dozen times this week about a free medical alert system. Out of desperation, you might press 9 to opt out of more calls or find a live operator to yell at, but Bandy cautions consumers to avoid these temptations.

“If you engage in that call, what we’ve seen is that there’s a likelihood you’ll receive more calls because the telemarketer will mark that down as a live number answered by a person, and they can sell that to another telemarketer,” he said.

Consider Call Blocking:

If the same number repeatedly bothers you, ask your phone provider if they can block the number, but first find out if they charge a fee for this service. Telemarketers change their numbers easily and often, so the blocking strategy could add up fast.

File a Complaint:

Report robocallers to the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP. Bandy said that while there are not enough resources to respond to every single complaint, regulators monitor which calls aggravate the most people. 

“It guides our decisions as to where to devote our enforcement resources,” he said.

Consider the Source:

Although repeated calls from a local candidate the week before an election can be trying, it’s not illegal. Before you issue a formal complaint, consider that automated political calls, surveys, charities, and companies for which you’ve consented to solicitation are exempt from robocall laws.

Get a Device (coming soon):

Last year, the FTC held a challenge to encourage the private sector to come up with a solution to the robocall problem. Inventor Aaron Foss created one of the products that regulators believe holds promise, and his invention may be available soon.

“Foss is very actively trying to take his idea and bring a consumer product to the market. Last time I talked to him, he said he was very hopeful to bring a product to the market by the end of the year,” said Bandy.

For more robocall prevention ideas go to:

*Photo via Shutterstock

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