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How To Stop Robocalls

How to Stop Robocalls.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.
FTC and FCC Regulations of Telemarketers.
Are Robocalls Illegal?
Are Robocalls a Scam?
5 reasons Robocalls are a problem for consumers.
So, Back to the Question of How to Stop Robocalls.
The FTC moves from Defense to Offense.
7 Things You Should Do if You Receive a Robocall.

We have all experienced those annoying automated telemarketing calls known as “Robocalls” and have wondered, “Can I stop Robocalls?” and, if so, “How do I stop Robocalls?” Unfortunately, stopping robocalls is like trying to stop drunk drivers. You can arrest and stop some, but there is no way to stop them all.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991

United States Congress

US Capitol Building

Congress tried to slow them down in 1991 by passing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), which modified the Communications Act of 1934. You can view a copy of the TCPA which is codified at 47 U.S.C § 227 by Clicking Here.

The TCPA regulates telemarketers (businesses marketing by telephone) by requiring telemarketers to provide certain information and to give consumers an easy to use option to opt out of the marketing. The TCPA also restricts the use of automated dialing systems, artificial or pre-recorded messages, text messages and faxes by businesses to solicit sales of products or services, i.e., Robocalls.

In short, the TCPA prohibits anyone from soliciting sales or services by robocalls unless the person receiving the call has expressly authorized it. But as persistent marketers always do, they started trying to figure out ways to get around the TCPA like arguing that if you have ever conducted business with them in the past, this business relationship creates the authorization to receive a robocall. They also used deceptively worded requests to get responses they claimed were express permission to robocall.

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FTC and FCC Regulations of Telemarketers

FTC and FCC Regulations

Regulations

As a result of these efforts, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted regulations that require express written consent that can be revoked. The FTC adopted the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) and the FCC adopted a similar rule that establishes the following:

1. Robocalls, other than by schools, charitable organizations, political campaigns and for information purposes only, are prohibited unless expressly agreed in writing and this authorization can be revoked.

2. These regulations establish the Do Not Call Registry, which prohibits any telemarketing sales call whether live or by robocall to a consumer who has elected to be placed on the Do Not Call Registry.

3. It prohibits abusive and deceptive sales calls.

4. It restricts telemarketing calls to between 8 am and 9 pm.

5. It requires telemarketing calls to be connected within 2 seconds after being answered by the consumer.

6. It requires the call to provide accurate caller identification (Caller ID) information of the business and requires the telemarketer to disclose that it is a sales call.

7. Likewise, it requires the accurate caller identification of the charitable organization and disclosure that it is a charitable solicitation.

8. It prohibits the telemarketer from billing the consumer without the consumers express permission to do so.

9. It requires any legitimate robocall to allow the consumer to opt out of receiving any robocalls by pressing one or two buttons through the automated system delivering the call.

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Are Robocalls Illegal?

All robo sales calls are illegal unless the consumer has given express written permission to receive them, and the likelihood that anyone will give this permission is not very likely. All information only robocalls such as school announcements, pharmacy reminders, campaign pitches and charitable organization solicitations are legal. However, even though unauthorized robocalls by telemarketers are illegal, the FTC still receives approximately 150,000 complaints per month concerning these pesky calls.

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Are Robocalls a Scam?

Robocall Scams

Robocall Scams

The simple answer to the question of whether robocalls are scam is this. They are illegal, so if you are receiving one, they are scams by nature. These types of sales calls are commonly referred to as “Rachel Calls.” In the beginning, consumers would get a robocall that stated something like, “Hi, this is Rachel…”

Rachel Calls have historically been associated with “Credit Card Interest Rate Reduction Scams” where the robocall invites you to “Press 1″ (or any other number) to speak with someone about reducing your interest rate. Once you press the number, you are connected with a sales agent who then scams you out of your money without delivering the reduced interest rate.

These types of scams are also referred to as “Last Dollar Frauds,” because they prey upon those who are “down to their last dollar” and can least afford to be scammed out of money by falsely offering them a way to save money.

Recently, there has been a drop in credit card interest rate reduction scams, but at the same time there has been a sharp rise in a new scam called the “Medical Alert Scam.” In the Medical Alert Scam, the robocall offers a free or already paid for Medical Alert System for the disabled, elderly, and others who live alone. This free or already paid for system, of course, ends up costing money.

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5 Reasons Robocalls are a Problem for Consumers:

1. Robocalls invade your privacy to the point of making your landline useless. I refuse to answer my landline and assume that if anyone of importance needs to speak with me, they know my cell phone number and will call me there. The rest of my family will answer the phone calls, and if they hear any pause before being connected they hang up at that point.

2. They often use “Spoofing,” by having a system that will mask the caller ID to show a local telephone number, when actually, they are calling from out of the area, usually from a “Boiler Room.” A Boiler Room is any location where these scammers set up automated telephone equipment using VoIP (voice over internet protocol) to generate the phone calls. The overhead is very low and the amount of money that is scammed each year is in the Billions of Dollars. The ease and speed of setting up these Boiler Rooms and moving them coupled with the ability to spoof and cloak numbers makes stopping Robocalls nearly impossible.

3. They prey upon people who are down to their “Last Dollar,” are elderly or are disabled. These are the people who can least afford to be scammed.

4. They can be used maliciously to deny telephone service to someone.

5. They can be used to obtain information that can result in the theft of your identity.

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So, Back to the Question of How to Stop Robocalls

Robo Blocker

Robocall Blocker

In 2012, the FTC decided to reach out to the hacker community (i.e., computer security professionals and researchers) to devise a way for the consumer to block robocalls. They ran a contest at the 2012 DEF CON convention (which is an annual convention held in Las Vegas since 1993 that is attended by computer security professionals and researchers and others) offering $50,000.00 to the winner of the competition to devise a robocall block. Over 800 participated with the ultimate winner being nomorobo.com.

Nomorobo.com now offers their winning service to consumers for free with no strings attached. They claim that a “simple, one-time setup activates Nomorobo on your current phone line” and that you can easily turn it off anytime you wish. They claim to have stopped over 5,523,731 robocalls while at the same time allowing legal robocalls like school cancellations and prescription reminders to come through.

I visited www.nomorobo.com and attempted to sign up for their free robocall blocking service offered to consumers. I clicked on the “Get Started Now” button and was directed to a screen that stated that Nomorobo was not available on all telephone carriers and allowing me to enter a telephone service to see if the carrier supports Nomorobo. I had a choice of “Landline” and “Wireless.” I chose “Landline.” I then chose AT&T Traditional Landline from their dropdown menu.

I then entered my email address and clicked “Next.” I was then presented the following message: “Sorry! None of your carriers currently support Nomorobo. But there is something that you can do! Please call the customer service number below and request that they add Simultaneous Ringing to their service so you can finally stop getting robocalls. The more people that call them, the better.”

After doing a little more reading on the subject, it appears that Nomorobo only works on a VoIP system (Voice over Internet Protocol) at this time. It does not work on a standard phone line. VoIP converts sound to a data file that is transferred over a data line. But, based upon the notice and request I was given when I tried to sign up that requested me to call AT&T and ask them to add Simultaneous Ringing, it appears this limitation is by choice of the telephone carriers.

I did a Google search to see if I could find another reputable robocall blocker and did not get any results that I trusted. I’m sure out of the 800 or more participants in the robocall blocker contest, someone else is offering their version. I just could not identify one at this time.

The word of caution that I would offer on robocall blockers at this time is that it appears they will filter all of your calls through their service, which they will separate into three basic piles: Authorized telephone calls and Authorized robocalls, both of which are forwarded to your line, and Unauthorized robocalls, which are blocked. I couldn’t get far enough with Nomorobo’s website to find out if the blocked robocall information is collected, destroyed, or provided to the FTC.

Keep in mind this is new technology only two years old and in its formative state. There will be bugs that have to be worked out and it will have to be adapted constantly to accommodate the new technology attacks offered by the “Robo Scammers”. It will have to be adopted by all of the major phone companies as well. The public will just have to be patient while this niche develops.

As a final note, do not forget that if your call information is all kept by the “Robo Blocker” and they have a security breach or go out of business, it could result in identity theft. Your blocking service needs to be reputable, in good financial condition, with a good disaster recovery plan, and with a plan for what happens to your data at the closing and liquidation of the company. Therefore, I would want to know more about the information they would keep, for how long they would keep it, for what purpose they would use it, who would have access to it, and what are my privacy rights concerning the information.

With Nomorobo winning the FTC award (which, by the way, is not an endorsement of their product by the FTC), they appear to be at the front of this new battle against robocalls, and I give them the benefit of the doubt at this point that they are a reputable company offering a reputable service.

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The FTC Moves from Defense to Offense.

FTC vs. Robo Scammer

FTC vs. Robo Scammer

In 2012, the FTC ran a contest to find the best defense to robocalls. In 2014, the FTC is promoting another contest at DEF CON 22 called “Zapping Rachel.” It will be held in Las Vegas, Nevada from August 7 through August 10, which will consist of three stand alone contests.  Each contest represents a different phase.  The first phase is called the “Creator” phase.  The second is called the “Attacker” phase.  The third is called the “Detective” Phase.

During the Creator phase, the contestants will attempt to create a honeypot system that will recognize robocalls.  During the attacker phase, the contestants will attempt to circumvent the Honeypot.  During the detective phase, the contestants will attempt to create an algorithm that will predict which calls in the honeypot are robocalls.  The purpose of this contest is to seek help from the security professionals in developing a honeypot system to identify, track and stop illegal robocall violators.

A “Honeypot” is a term usually applied to a decoy system within a computer system set up to appear to be a legitimate system with vulnerabilities used as an early detection of hacking activity into that system and used to collect data of the hacker for purposes of defense. A business can do this, for example, by using a decommissioned computer, which is set up to be easily hacked but has no relevant information that can be stolen. It is made to look like a legitimate system with vulnerabilities that lures the hacker in and tries to hold them there as long as possible to gather as much data as possible while alerting the owner of the presence of a hacker.

Therefore, there are two basic purposes of a Honeypot. One is to act as an early detection of hacker activity. Because this computer is not being used, any activity on the system is unauthorized. The second purpose is to act as a forensic collector of data from the Hacker to assist identification and prosecution of the violator.

The Zapping Rachel contest is aimed at carrying the Honeypot concept to the robocall world for the second stated purpose of forensic information gathering of the illegal robocaller to assist the FTC in identifying and prosecuting violators. The challenge is to develop a system that will lure robocalls in to gather forensic information for them and keep them there for as long as they can, since these illegal operations hang up immediately upon any confrontation. The first obstacle is devising such a system to lure the calls and keep them there. The second obstacle is to gather the information, organize it, analyze it and present it to the FTC for criminal investigation, which is no small task.

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7 Things You Should Do if You Receive a Robocall

Are Robocalls Driving You Crazy?

Stop Robocalls

1. Never make a deal on the phone unless you made the initial call.

2. If you can block a robocall, then block it.

3. Let your answering machine answer if it is not an expected call and you do not recognize the number. If they are legitimate, they will leave you a voice message (make sure your voice mail is set up and not full).

4. Upon answering your phone, if you hear a delay while you are being connected, this is a robocall. Simply hang up before they connect. Again, if it is a legitimate call, they will call back.

5. If you do get connected to an automated system, hang up and do not press any buttons (i.e., when they say to find out more information by “Pressing 1,” Do Not Press 1!)

6. If you do press 1, begin asking them their name and employee number, who they work for, what is their telephone number and extension and their address, can they provide a copy of express written permission signed by you giving them authority to place this call. Ask them in that order. A robo scammer will probably hang up after the first question, but if not, they will hang up as the questions get repeatedly more intrusive.

7. After they hang up, report the call and all information that you have about it, to the FTC and the FCC by Clicking Here  for Residential Landlines and by Clicking Here for Wireless.

Please post your comment below.  I would love to know what you are thinking about this.  

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About

David is an attorney practicing law for 25 years. I concentrate mostly in business and bankruptcy law. However, this site is not related to my law practice and nothing on it should be construed as legal advice. The purpose of the site is to provide identity theft education to the public from my perspective of 25 years of witnessing various types of identity theft.

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