What the Tech: Protecting yourself against annoying robo-calls

I’ll bet you’ve gotten a robo-call on your phone this week. These annoying calls about student loans, the I.R.S or debt reduction interruptions are one of the most annoying time-wasters of our generation. I wish I had better news but it’s getting worse, even if you signed up for the Do Not Call Registry.

The Do Not Call registry is almost 15 years old but you’re probably getting more robo calls than ever. Get this, in 15 years the FTC has enforced the law a total of just 131 times.

“You know, it’s never worked,” says the Better Business Bureau’s Kathleen Calligan. “Scammers don’t care if you’re not on the Do Not Call list.”

Reputable telemarketers generally abide by the law, the problem is that the scammers calling you are from other countries so trying to enforce the law is impossible and technology is making it worse. The crooks don’t need phones anymore. ‘They’re using computers,” explains Calligan. “They don’t even have to pay for banks and banks of telephone lines anymore.”

Dozens of robo-call companies advertise their services on the internet and they’re always coming up with new tricks. In the last several months scammers have learned to spoof local numbers. The FTC reports last year only 4% of robo calls were from local numbers but by July they accounted for 2-% of all robo calls.

You can block the number, but the scammers keep changing it. So what’s the ‘answer’? Hang up. You can also download a call block app, but you’ve got to be careful there too.

“Listen to this one: there are some apps the scammers have put out there,” said Calligan. “Some of these apps actually give a scammer total access of what you’re doing on your phone.” The apps could also cause more robo calls to reach your phone.

At least 2 apps are safe to use. NoMoRobo uses a data base of bad numbers and blocks them from ringing your phone. It also blocks numbers reported by other users.

YouMail is another; this one not only blocks calls but if it suspects a robo call it answers with an automated message that says your number is out of service, which should remove it from the scammers call list.

There’s one thing you should never do, and that’s press a button during a call, even if it says ‘1’ will remove you from the list. You’ll tell the scammer your phone is in service and you’ll get more calls.

And unfortunately the annoying problem will get worse as scammers are using something called ‘ringless voicemail’ which will leave a voice mail message without the phone even ringing.

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