Not all automated telephone messages — those autodialed phone calls that play a recorded message when you answer — are scams. It just seems that way.
So far this year, about 34 billion automated calls, also known as robocalls, were made in the U.S. According to the call-blocking app YouMail, about half of them were scams. Hawai‘i residents received more than 89 million robocalls, averaging about 74 calls per person.
Legitimate robocalls remind us about prescriptions, tell us about school closures, or have other business and convenience purposes. AARP uses automated calls to reach members with educational programming, including how to stay safe from scams and frauds.
If you are among the more than 90 percent of Americans who find robocalls disruptive and annoying (according to a recent AARP Fraud Watch Network survey), there’s good news: The Federal Communications Commission and Congress are taking actions that should reduce the number of scam calls you receive.
There are also steps you can take to fight back against scam calls.
The most common tactic scammers use is “caller-ID spoofing.” Scammers can fake the Caller ID phone number to make it seem like it’s coming from a local number. Our AARP survey found that 59 percent of adults in the U.S. are likely to answer a call with a local area code.
Last month, the FCC approved new rules to crack down on spoofing. The rules give the FCC more authority to investigate international fraudsters and take enforcement action. New rules also allow phone companies to offer call-blocking services to consumers, although phone companies will be able to charge for the service. The agency is also encouraging phone companies to use technology to block calls that pretend to be from a different area code.
Congress is also moving to pass legislation that will give regulators more enforcement tools and require phone companies to use call identification technology to block robocalls. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill known as the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. The Senate passed a similar bill called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, in May. The House bill would also make call blocking services offered by phone companies free. Differences in the bills must still be worked out in conference committee before it can become law.
But, you don’t have to wait for Congress. You can take steps on your own to reduce unwanted calls. The first step is to not answer unfamiliar calls, even if they seem to be from a local number. If you answer an unfamiliar number, scammers will know that your number is live and that could lead to more calls.
You can also add your name to the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222. Also, check out free call block apps that can help block unwanted calls on your Smartphone.
For more tips and other ways to fight fraud, attend our AARP “Hawai‘i’s Top Frauds” seminar at locations on O‘ahu, Maui and the Big Island next month. Go to https://aarp.cvent.com/HIFraud9-19 or call 1-877-926-8300 for more information or to register.
This story originally appeared in The Hawaii Herald.