The 2020 election is less than a week away, and voters are already reporting unusual activity both on and offline. Between robocalls, scams and foreign disinformation, there are plenty of reasons to stay vigilant as we make our way towards Election Day.
One of the biggest stories involved the government of Iran, which attempted to interfere in the U.S. election by masquerading as the Proud Boys group and sending targeted threats to voters. Tap or click here to see how Iran and Russia are meddling in the election.
But now, voters have to contend with even more blatant attempts at disinformation from bad actors. Not only are people reporting malicious robocalls with lies about candidates and polling places, but a robocall campaign was also discovered with fake information about mail-in ballots and voter information. Here’s the truth behind calls and texts coming your way.
Even more voter disinformation to worry about in the runup to Nov. 3
Voters across the nation have seen their phones blow up with contradictory information leading up to the 2020 election. There are plenty of calls and texts coming through with statements about candidates and parties, which is normal. But there are also stranger, darker messages circulating that seem to blur the line between fact and fiction.
Some of the calls and texts seem benign at first — with simple statements about how your polling location has changed or how a candidate is dropping out. But these messages are completely false. They’re part of active disinformation campaigns designed to confuse voters and decrease turnout in the election.
Here’s a perfect example: A call coming from “Project 1599.” This robocall begins with a statement from someone named Tamika Taylor with a warning about mail-in voting. She claims that mailing a ballot will land your information in a public database that police, creditors and the government can use to take your money and force vaccinations upon you.
None of this information is even remotely true. All voting by mail does is send a ballot to state election officials — who already know your identity and where you live. Voter rolls are not shared with police, banks or the CDC. The fact that vaccines are even mentioned in the same sentence seems random — but the goal is to prey on people’s fear and doubts.
This is just one of many disinformation robocalls circulating right now. The Project 1599 calls were the subject of a lawsuit in mid-October, and the judge presiding the case ordered a temporary restraining order against the people responsible. But that hasn’t stopped robocall operators from sharing outlandish claims about political violence, communist uprisings and vote harvesting.
And this doesn’t even begin to cover the sheer volume of political scam calls making the rounds this month. Tap or click here to see what you can do about political scam calls.
How can I protect myself from disinformation robocalls?
There are several scams and disinformation calls circulating, but all of them tend to bank on fear and confusion of how political campaigns work.
If you get a call with threatening or sensational information, just hang up. All you’re doing is wasting time by subjecting yourself to false or fraudulent information. Instead, keep these facts in mind as you screen calls over the next few days:
- If you get a call with information about your polling place or a candidate dropping out of the election, do research on the claim before believing it. Call your candidate’s office or phone lines to verify the call’s accuracy. You can also check your polling place at Vote.org or with your local county recorder’s office.
- Calls and texts from pollsters or campaigners will not offer your prizes or rewards for participating. Consider any attempts to contact you like this to be scams.
- If a call or text asks for any kind of financial information, ignore it. This is a red flag for scams.
- If a caller uses urgent or sensational-sounding language, hang up. If a story sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- No legitimate caller will ever ask for your Social Security number. There is no reason for them to ask this. Ignore and hang up.
These calls are noisy and confusing, but they’re thankfully easy to spot if you know the facts. In the meantime, you might want to download some anti-robocall apps to keep your phone line quiet. You may end up blocking real political calls — but let’s face it, that’s not always a bad thing.