Robocalls: Why You Can Win the Battle but Not the War

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Video Transcript

Marianne: Phone ringing off the hook. You’re right. Robocalls are on the rise. But there are ways to fight back. Cody’s with our resident nerd on “Call Ryan Eldridge” this morning.

Cody: Yes. Yes.

Marianne: I hate those calls.

Cody: Here’s what I wanna do every time I get a call from a number that seems local. And they say, “Hey. You’ve won thing I wanna go…drives me insane. So help us, Ryan. Help us.

Ryan: That’s why you go through so many phones, right? It’s because you keep breaking scenes on your phone.

Cody: Smack em, yeah.

Ryan: So robocalls are an epidemic. So YouMail which is a visual voicemail provider, they basically said that there was a 40% increase in robocalls just between February and September. That’s a huge amount. It’s 83% over last year. So it’s a real epidemic. They’re saying that nearly 50% of all U.S. mobile traffic will be scam calls by 2019.

Cody: May I repeat my earlier statement?

Ryan: So your phone has become the new spam box, right. I mean, you remember you used to get like hundreds of spam messages a day, and now it’s not so bad, you know, mostly the filters are taking care of it. What they’re doing is they’re using caller ID to spoof and make it look like they’re local. “Oh, I know, this number is just down the street. I think I’ll answer. It’s probably somebody that needs me.” Well, they’re spamming or they’re using spoofers from internet service providers that are allowing them to make phone calls on their service, right. So they can hide who they are, what their phone number is, all their true intentions. And they can move so quickly, that law enforcement can’t really stop that. Speaking of law enforcement, the FTC is the one that’s supposed to protect us from this sort of thing. And they’re doing their best, they’re really trying. They’ve sued hundreds of companies and gotten billions of dollars in judgments. But yet, it’s still happening. So, YouMail says that robocalls, basically, are gonna be about, I think it’s 40% of the 4.4 billion calls that were made. 40% of those robocalls were all illegal. Now, robocalls, there are some legal means of use, like if it’s a campaign, or if it’s a, like a nonprofit or something like that. But if they’re trying to sell you something that’s illegal. That’s why the Do Not Call Registry doesn’t really work because they’re already breaking the law. So they figured, we just go ahead and do it.

So these companies got together and they said, “We’re going to fix this.” They created $100 million software program that’s been in development for three years. And they’re going to roll this out over the course of two to five years, so it’s gonna take forever. But essentially, what it’s supposed to do is create a token system. So if I have a phone number, I have a token and I exchange that with your phone that says, “Hey, I’m a legit source”, right? And then way it kind of takes away some of the spammers from being able to call you all the time. So what do you do when you get a call? You don’t want to, like, yell at ’em, scream at ’em, punch a bunch of numbers. You just want to basically just hang up. Don’t do anything else with the call. You’re not really going to get revenge that way. And if you’re not sure if it’s really your friend or not, that’s calling you just look up the number on Google before you answer and just say, “Hey. Is this legit or not?” And if you don’t have time, if they don’t leave a message, they’ll call you back if they really want to talk to you. So, here’s how you stop ’em. Obviously, the Do Not Call Registry doesn’t really work. But do it anyway, just in case. Just in case the other service comes. Contact your service provider and find out do they have any kind of blocking services. AT&T has one for free. So, you can call them up and say, “Hey, put that on my phone.” You can also use this cool little tool called Robo Killer. Now this is a really fun tool, because what it does is it blocks already known numbers, over a million numbers it’s already blocking. So Marianne was saying she’s blocking ’em by hand now. A million numbers Marianne.

Marianne: Yeah. Yeah. That’s how I think how many I’ve blocked is a million.

Ryan: This is the best part though. What they do is they have a little bot that answers your phone for you. If it’s a suspected call, and then wastes the time of the scammer. And there’s a little button on this website you can go to and you can listen to the bots talk to these scammers. It’s hilarious. It’s a good afternoon.

Cody: Oh. I love it.

Ryan: So, what you wanna do is…the other thing you can do is on your voicemail, you know that tone you get when you call a disconnected number?

Cody: Yeah.

Ryan: Put that on your voicemail at the very beginning of your voicemail. So it’s like du-du-du then you say, “Hey. It’s Cody. Just give me blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Most people are gonna ignore it but it could send something to the robo callers it’s like oh this is a disconnected number. Take it off my list.

Cody: That’s smart.

Ryan: Tricky huh? Excuse me. The last thing you want to do is report the calls. So, you go to the National Do Not Call Registry there’s a little form you can fill out the tells them when you got the call, what the number was and everything else, and it’ll at least put it in a database. And if there’s enough offenses the FTC will take them down.

Cody: Thank you, Obi Wan, you are our only hope. We really appreciate that. It drives me nuts.

Ryan: Robo Killer, that’s the game.

Marianne: All right. Thanks, you guys. Good tips. Okay, let the pumpkin…

We’ve all experienced it. You’re out there innocently living your life when the phone rings. There’s a moment’s silence before a halting robot voice implores you not to hang up—that it has a vitally important message you urgently need to hear.

Phone with an angry face

These scam RoboCalls are one of the most annoying downsides of constantly having a phone in your pocket, and… I hate to break it to you … it’s only getting worse.

Between February and July this year, these deeply stupid and jaw-grindingly intrusive calls have increased by an outrageous 50%. The best estimates we have suggest that, by 2019, nearly half of US mobile traffic will be scam RoboCalls.

So why are they so persistent? Why can’t they be stopped? And what can you do to make them more bearable? Let’s take a look.

Why Are Robocalls So Common?

There are two main reasons.

It’s Technologically Easy

The first is that telecommunications technology makes these kinds of scam calls incredibly easy.

Internet-powered phone systems make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world and display fake caller ID information.

A few years ago, such a feat would be nigh on impossible. Today, it’s a simple matter of owning the right software.

It’s Consequence Free

There’s simply not much of a downside for the scammers who engineer these RoboCalls. They can relatively easily hide from law enforcement.

Law enforcement

Neither the technological nor the legal frameworks are adequately developed to deter this kind of fraudulent activity.

So, for now, at least, RoboCalls are part of the fabric of our telecommunications augmented lives.

What’s Being Done About It?

While the situation right now isn’t great, steps are being taken to address the issue.


The Federal Trade Commission Is Pushing Back

While the legal infrastructure isn’t there yet, it’s definitely catching up. The FTC has sued hundreds of companies and individuals responsible for placing these unwanted calls. They’ve also obtained over one billion dollars in judgments against these violators.

That might sound like a big deal, but compared to the problem it’s still just a drop in the bucket.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction!


The Telecom Companies Are Looking for Technological Solutions

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have developed and are currently testing a system to authenticate phone calls. Up to 90% of US phones should be protected from RoboCall harassment in two to five years.

Again, this sounds pretty encouraging!

The grim counter to this though is that, as the protective technology evolves, new methods of circumventing them will continue to be developed too.

In other words, it’s a race—and unfortunately for the telecom companies and the public at large, this will continue to be a difficult battle on many fronts.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Sadly, there’s no silver bullet.

The number one thing you can do is to avoid interacting with the call in any way. When you receive a robocall, don’t press any buttons. Don’t engage with the call in any way. Never ring the number back.

Any kind of interaction will only make the situation worse. Beyond non-interaction, you may also wish to try one or more of these three actions.

1. Use (And Contribute To) the Do Not Call Registry

Technically, the Do Not Call Registry should block many unwanted calls. Unfortunately, it’s entirely voluntary. It may slightly reduce the calls you get, but it will have zero impact on the vast majority of robocalls.

When you do get a scam call, you can also report the originating number to the Do Not Call Registry. This gradually improves the service, not just for you but for all users.


2. Check for Advanced Blocking Services

While right now there aren’t many options telecommunication providers can offer, when you negotiate a new plan it’s absolutely worth asking if any new services are available. They may be only temporarily useful, but it’s still worth opting in if such a service becomes available.

Brick wall

3. Use a Call Blocking App

You may also want to try Robokiller. This app automatically blocks over 100,000 spam numbers while still letting through unknown but legitimate calls. You get a 7-day free trial and then you’re looking at a $2.99 per month subscription.

Unfortunately, robocalls aren’t about to go away any time soon. However, if you avoid interacting with the service and use some of the above strategies, you may at least see some improvement.

We can only hope that a perfect solution becomes available sometime in the near future.

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