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Robocalls have become an all-too-common nuisance for consumers. Robocalls are unsolicited, pre-recorded phone calls, often scams, which are made to consumers without their permission, as opposed to calls solicited by the consumer, such as those from pharmacies and childrens’ schools.  Robocalls are illegal in Massachusetts under M.G.L. c. 159C.  While consumers can, and should, sign-up -for both the state and national Do-Not-Call lists, unfortunately this does not always stop many unscrupulous solicitors and scammers from making these calls.

Robocall scams often promise free cruises, debt relief, easy money and many more little slices of the American dream. Official-sounding tax scams in particular are very popular, estimated by the IRS to have netted fraudsters more than $40 million since October 2013. The senders of these illegal robocalls can readily and cheaply use technology to gain access to phone numbers, even ones that are unlisted. Robocall senders then input these lists of numbers into a computer program to instantly send out a pre-recorded message via the internet. These programs even have the ability to falsify caller-ID information to mimic a more official-looking sender.

Because regulatory agencies have struggled to keep up with the technological advances of robocalls and telecom carriers have seen little incentive to take on the problem, many private companies and consumers have taken the initiative to outsmart robocallers themselves.

To outmaneuver phone-spamming robocalls a sensiblannoying-phone-call-smalle plan of action includes:

  • Not answering. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and FCC (Federal Communications Commission) explain that answering the phone lets robocall systems know a consumer is a real person. This action may, in turn, prompt one’s number to be placed on a more valuable list of confirmed live consumers. If you don’t recognize an incoming number, don’t answer it.
  • Looking up the number and reporting it. Copy the suspicious phone number and do a reverse lookup with a reputable app or website. Hiya, a spinoff of Whitepages.com, has a large database of numbers used by scammers largely based on the reports of its users. If you know it’s a scam number, report it and file a complaint with the FTC.
  • Using a call-blocking service. Apps exist that can send alerts when a scammer calls, checking the incoming number against databases of phone numbers commonly used by illegal robocallers.
  • Updating your phone. Android devices currently provide call blocking. Apple’s upcoming iOS 10 will give iPhones new protection as well. These systems already block numbers so that a caller goes straight to voice mail, but soon apps will be able to block callers in bulk, without dumping numbers into your address book to do it.

The FCC and FTC are hoping that wireless carriers will intercept illegal robocalls at the network level, even allowing them to legally block robocalls and automated text messages if asked by a customer. Pressure from consumers and elected officials may give carriers more motivation to intervene. To date, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler published a blog post publicly calling out phone companies  to make robocall-blocking services free to consumers.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business
Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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