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The Robocall Revolution

Since being enacted on June 27, 2003, the National Do Not Call Registry has about 72 percent of Americans participating. Yet we all get robocalls every week, or day…or hour. Why is this happening and how can you stop it?

The why

Technology is the main reason for the recent uptick in robocalls. Simply put, it’s much easier to spoof phone numbers and make thousands of calls now. In 2003 when the law went into effect, most call centers relied on dedicated lines, often with people making individual calls. Since then, the industry has moved to voice over internet protocol (VoIP). VoIP allows for thousands of numbers to use one central, high-speed internet connection.

Autodialers are another part of the problem. Autodialers randomly generate numbers or dial sequential numbers. These are illegal to use for making robocalls in the U.S.; however, there are systems that dial from “verified” lists. Where these lists come from is hard to say. There are enough places mining data that putting a list of names and phone numbers together isn’t difficult.

Another reason for the calls is they come from off-shore. U.S. law is hard to enforce overseas. Increased access to the internet and decreased costs of setting up calling systems have made it easy to establish robocall centers anywhere. These off-shore call centers can then spoof (fake) local numbers for your area code—making it seem like it could be a legitimate call.

What to do

If you want to protect yourself from unwanted phone calls, the first step is to register your number with the FTC (https://www.donotcall.gov/). If you feel you’ve received a violating call after you registered, you can use the same site to file a report.

The sheer volume of robocalls makes reporting them all a hassle. However, every complaint is helpful. The FTC can’t address every individual complaint, but law enforcement and prosecutors use these complaints to go after people or companies violating consumer regulations. Filing a complaint won’t stop spammers from contacting you, but it does help keep the problem from getting worse.

There are apps like Truecaller, Hiya, and YouMail that rely on users to submit spam numbers. The app then fakes the spammer into thinking your number is disconnected, reducing their chance of calling again. They all offer different features depending on what you are looking for within the whole package. The spam filter features are all equal, for the most part.

What not to do

There are a lot of myths floating around of how to stop spam calls. Pressing “9” when you hear the recording won’t help. Pressing any number won’t help. In fact, answering the call can lead to more unwanted calls. The companies that make spam calls often have sophisticated software designed to know if a person answered or if it was undeliverable. The more often they get a real person, the more likely they are to keep trying that number.

If you do answer, don’t give them any information. These calls are often illegal from the start. Anything they are going to do with your information is probably less than ethical. Also, avoid staying on the line too long—the length of time doesn’t really have any effect besides wasting your time.

In the end, the best thing to do is ignore calls you don’t know and report the number if it’s spam. If you do pick up and hear that non-human click, hang up.

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