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On average, how many robocalls would you say you get in a day? One, three, 19? Honestly, there isn't a number you could say that would surprise me.
That's because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it's seen a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls lately because internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make calls from anywhere in the world.
The agency has been trying to stop these illegal calls for years. Now, we might actually see some progress in the never-ending fight. Four major culprits responsible for billions of illegal robocalls have been caught.
What's being done to stop robocallers?
Government agencies aren't the only ones taking the fight to robocallers. Verizon finally decided to get serious about stopping them, too.
And, there's some good news to report. The FTC announced this week that it took an enormous bite out of robocall scams. They took down four separate operations which were using numerous company names. They were behind billions of illegal robocalls.
The scammers pitched things like auto warranties, debt-relief services, home security systems, fake charities and Google search results services. All four illegal operations agreed to settle charges that they violated the FTC Act and the agency's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), including its Do Not Call provision.
As a result of the settlement, the defendants are banned from robocalling and most telemarketing activities, including those using an automatic dialer, and will pay significant financial judgments. One of the defendants provided the software platform that resulted in over 1 billion illegal robocalls.
Which telemarketing companies did the FTC shut down?
Here are some of the names of companies taken down after these settlements: TelWeb, NetDotSolutions, TeraMESH, Salisbury, World Connection LLC, World Connection S.A., Higher Goals Marketing, Life Management Services, Pointbreak Media and Veterans of America (VOA).
It wouldn't be surprising if you received a robocall or 10 from any of the above-mentioned companies. They were responsible for billions of robocalls every year.
One in particular caught my eye. Veterans of America (VOA), run by Travis Deloy Peterson, allegedly used fake veterans' charities and illegal robocalls to get people to donate cars, boats and other valuables. Peterson allegedly sold those items for his own personal benefit. Talk about sleazy!
Peterson used other company names in this repugnant scheme, too. Those were called Vehicles for Veterans LLC, Saving Our Soldiers, Donate Your Car, Donate That Car LLC, Act of Valor and Medal of Honor.
He allegedly made millions of robocalls, asking people for donations that would go to veterans' charities and were tax-deductible. In reality, none of the companies were real charities with tax-exempt status. A court order now bans Peterson from robocalling, prohibits him from deceptive and abusive telemarketing, and imposes a nearly $550,000 judgment against him. That's a good start.
Even after this large-scale bust, you're still going to receive plenty of unwanted robocalls. Unfortunately, it's the way of the world right now. But you don't have to sit back and take it. Keep reading for ways to be proactive in stopping this scourge on society.
FCC tips to stop unwanted robocalls
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to help consumers stop robocalls and avoid phone scams. Here is a list of FCC suggestions to help in the fight:
- Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
- You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be aware: Caller ID showing a "local" number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
- If you answer the phone and the caller - or a recording - asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
- Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with "Yes." That's because there is a "can you hear me" scam that could end up costing you big time.
- 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.
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
- Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
- If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.
- To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.
You won’t believe robocallers' latest schemes! Here are ways you can outsmart them
You’ve heard them – the annoying robotic calls that try to scam you with free vacations or false threats from the IRS. In fact, it is estimated that scammers make 2.5 billion robocalls in one month alone. This poses a very real risk to consumers as it gets harder to identify and avoid malicious automated calls. In this Komando on Demand podcast, you’ll learn how to protect yourself and your family from falling victim to these tricky and downright dangerous phone calls.