AARP Eye Center
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 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.
The FTC says it’s identifying the gateway providers that have been transmitting robocalls, demanding that they stop, and pursuing legal action if they don’t. So far, according to the agency, officials have identified 24 providers transmitting illegal calls — including those from government and business impostors, COVID-19 relief payment scams, and student loan debt relief and forgiveness schemes.
Of the 24 providers targeted by the FTC, 22 have “significantly curbed or altogether stopped the flow of illegal robocalls entering the country over their networks,” the agency reports.
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.
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.)
- Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, 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 numbers, mother’s maiden names, 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 they 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 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov. Legitimate telemarketers consult the registry to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the opt-out list.
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