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Thwarting the Robocaller Invasion

Consumers have an array of weapons at their disposal in the fight to help keep those infuriating interruptions at bay.

If you’re like most Americans, you probably receive at least five or more unsolicited telemarketing and “robocalls” every week. And even if your phone number is registered on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s National Do Not Call Registry, chances are you’re still receiving these calls.

Is there anything you can to reduce the number of annoying calls, short of disconnecting your phone? The answer is: possibly.

Why the Do Not Call Registry doesn’t work

The FTC opened the National Do Not Call Registry in 2003 to comply with the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003. Its website, www.donotcall.gov, enables consumers to register phone numbers that they don’t wish telemarketers to call.

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Note that registration only prohibits sales calls. You still may receive calls from politicians and political action committees, charitable organizations, debt collectors and survey conductors.

For several years, the Do-Not-Call Registry actually eliminated most telemarketing calls. Consumers with Caller ID and call-blocking features could also block future calls if they had recorded the actual phone number of the caller. As a last resort, consumers could report the phone numbers of violators.

But advances in technology and a lack of industry oversight have enabled the telemarketers to once again get the upper hand.

Why?

  1. The Do-Not-Call Registry applies only to calls made by U.S.-based companies. Today, many telemarketing calls originate outside the U.S.
  2. Many telemarketers and scammers now use the internet as their telephone carrier, rather than traditional telephone lines, making it nearly impossible to block the callers.
  3. Most telemarketers don’t use real phone numbers or their phone numbers aren’t displayed in Caller ID, making the act of reporting violators and phone number blocking completely ineffective.

Is there any way to rein in the robos?

You may never be able to completely stop the annoying calls, but you can use technology against them.

Mobile solutions

Most cellular service providers offer features such as anonymous call blocking to reduce robocall volume. But these services may also block calls from people you know who keep their identities private. And many robocalls still find ways to get through.

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Another solution is to download third-party cellphone apps such as RoboKiller and Nomorobo. These apps, which are available for both iPhones and Android-based phones, maintain databases of thousands of known robocall numbers and identities. When the app detects a telemarketer or robocaller, it may automatically prevent the call from going through. Keep in mind, however, that both of these services charge a monthly fee.

Landline solutions

Even though landlines are gradually going the way of the dinosaur, those who do use them are as harassed by robocalls as their mobile counterparts. Fortunately, there are solutions for wired phone users.

  • Hardware solutions: Companies like CPR, MCHEETA and DigiFone manufacture call-blocking devices that go between your landline phone and the wall jack. These devices store thousands of known telemarketing numbers in their memory. When they identify a number or receive a call where the number or identity isn’t displayed, they can prevent the call from going through. If you’re considering such a device, research them carefully. Common complaints are that they’re difficult to set up, sometimes block “real” phone calls, and that with telemarketers constantly creating new numbers the device’s database may become outdated very quickly.
  • Online solutions: Nomorobo is also available for landline users with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services, which are generally offered by internet and cable service providers. Check the Nomorobo website to see if your provider is supported. The service is currently free for landline users.

Sacrificing privacy for convenience

Keep in mind that both mobile and landline call-blocking services maintain logs of every single call you receive, including those from friends and family. For the convenience of blocking unwanted calls, you need to feel comfortable with sacrificing a degree of personal privacy. Before you sign up for any of these services, check their privacy policy to find out what they do to protect your information.

If you mistakenly answer a telemarketing call

Even the most vigilant phone monitor sometimes mistakenly answers a telemarketing or robocall. If you do, it’s important not to engage the caller. Hanging up immediately is the best response, but if you must stay on the line:

  • Don’t fall for an offer to add your number to its do not call list. This only tells the robocaller that yours is a real number (remember that a robocaller may call thousands of numbers, real or not, at the same time).
  • Don’t say a word — especially not the word “Yes” — to seemingly innocuous questions, such as “Am I speaking to (your name)?” Telemarketers have been known to record affirmative responses and use them as a voice signature to authorize fraudulent charges to credit cards purchases placed by phone.

You may never be able to fully stop the invasion of robocallers, but these strategies may empower you to reduce their threat to your peace of mind.

About the Author

Joelle Spear, CFP®

Financial Adviser, Partner, Canby Financial Advisors

Joelle Spear, CFP® is a financial adviser and a Partner at Canby Financial Advisors in Framingham, Mass. She has an MBA with a finance concentration from Bentley University. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Financial planning services offered by Canby Financial Advisors are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.

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