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FTC Announces New Steps to Stop Flood of Illegal Robocalls

Americans were hit with more than 50.3 billion of these unwanted telemarketing calls last year


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Scammers and others blanket Americans with billions of illegal robocalls annually — more than 50.3 billion last year, according to the call-protection app YouMail — many of which originate overseas. To fight this scourge, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is accelerating its efforts to block these calls though a joint federal and state effort involving all the states’ attorneys general called Operation Stop Scam Calls. The FTC, which announced the crackdown July 18 in Chicago, says it’s targeting not only telemarketers but also the “lead generators who deceptively collect and provide consumers’ telephone numbers to robocallers.”

These lead generators often falsely claim that the consumers have given their consent to receive these calls. For example, the FTC alleges that a company called Fluent Inc. lures consumers to its websites “using deceptive ads that falsely promise employment opportunities or free valuable items, such as a job interview with UPS or a $1,000 Walmart gift card.” Those sites then use “dark patterns,” a complaint against the company says, to elicit consumers’ personal information and “consent” to receive robocalls. The government’s suit against Fluent is calling for a $2.5 million civil penalty and that the company be banned from such practices. It’s also taking action against similar businesses.

VIDEO: Ways to Cut Down on Robocalls

An ongoing battle

A few months ago the federal government ramped up its Project Point of No Entry, which targets the “point of entry” providers that field illegal calls from outside the U.S. 

 Regulators describe these gateway providers as “on-ramps for international call traffic.” Overseas robocallers send a call to a gateway provider, which in turn hands the call off to a U.S. network carrier.

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Deceptive tactics

Robocallers use a variety of deceptive techniques to get you to answer, including spoofing, which tricks caller ID into displaying fake phone numbers. Sometimes those numbers are designed to use your three-digit area code, making the call look like it’s coming from a neighbor — not another country.

If you answer, the robotic voice on the other end might claim to represent a utility, a name-brand company (Amazon is a common one), or a government agency like the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. Another extremely pervasive robocall involves a pitch for an extended warranty on your car. The goal: to get you to give up personal information or cash.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Whack-a-mole

At the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), most large telecommunication companies use a technical protocol called STIR/SHAKEN to verify that calls originate from the number that shows up on your phone. (FCC rules compel gateway providers to comply with the same caller ID authentication protocols.) 

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Despite these efforts, the 50.3 billion robocalls Americans received in 2022 is only slightly down from the 50.5 billion they received in 2021. Scammers can often beat new technology, including the STIR/SHAKEN tech. Some robocall companies, for example, have simply started buying lists of legitimate numbers for their spoofing operations. 

Meanwhile, robotexting is an increasing problem: Americans received more than 225 billion robotexts in 2022, more than four times the number they saw in 2020, according to Robokiller, a technology company that fights spam.

How to help in the fight against robocalls

Officials ask consumers to help them in the battle: “Our secret weapon is consumers — whom we urge to continue reporting illicit robocalls, so we can sever these unwanted illegal robocallers’ connection once and for all,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a press statement. Report illegal robocalls at DoNotCall.gov.

Other tips:

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer a robocall, hang up immediately.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information, such as account numbers, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, passwords or other identifying information, in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • Talk to your phone company about call-blocking tools it may have, and check into apps you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.

To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the FTC National Do Not Call Registry at DoNotCall.gov. Legitimate telemarketers consult the registry to avoid calling landline and wireless phone numbers on the opt-out list.

Christina Ianzito covers fraud and scams and is book editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine.

 

John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 1998 financial crisis. Waggoner’s USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.