The pandemic may have slowed down all sorts of industries, but robocalls are alive and more active than ever. If you’ve been hesitant to pick up the phone recently, you’re not alone — researchers have detected millions of robocall complaints during the first part of 2020.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do to stop them either. Many robocall operations are based overseas, which means our ability to squash them at the source is limited. Tap or click here to see why robocalls are hard to stop.
But now, data is finally out for 2020: Robocalls haven’t gone away, and they’re more annoying than ever. Not only has the FTC received more complaints than in previous years, but it’s also levied more fines and penalties. Here’s what we know about the current state of the robocall epidemic, as well as what you can do to keep them away from your phone.
Revenge of the robocalls
According to a new report to Congress by the FTC, the commission received almost 2 million complaints from Americans about robocalls during the first nine months of 2020. This is well on track to match 2019’s numbers, which reached a whopping 3.7 million complaints about robocalls by the end of the year.
This shows the robocall epidemic has no signs of slowing down. But on the flip side, the FTC is getting better about enforcing penalties against robocallers. The report also shows the government collected more than $160 million in penalties since the National Do Not Call Registry began, and that actions were taken against groups behind more than a billion robocalls.
It’s good that the government isn’t just letting these scammers get away with harassing us, but there are simply too many robocalls happening for the FTC to stop them all. At this point in time, it’s on us to know what robocalls to watch out for. If we don’t take the bait, we can’t get scammed (even if they call back).
What kind of robocalls are happening now?
There are several different types of robocalls circulating this year — but a few of them are more common than others. These robocalls are easy to spot by their canned lines and rehearsed scenarios, which is why learning how to spot them is critical to protecting ourselves.
- Imposter calls: These robocalls pretend to be government agencies like the IRS, Veteran’s Administration or Social Security Administration. The recordings will typically claim there is an urgent issue with your account, and if you connect to an operator, you’ll be coerced into sharing personal and financial information.
- Car warranty calls: This common robocall claims that your car warranty is about to expire, or that you have an urgent repair or recall that needs to be taken care of. If you connect to an operator, you could be tricked into providing your name, payment information and information about your vehicle.
- Student loan calls: These calls tend to take two forms — debt relief for student loans or calls from the Department of Education. The payment plans and relief options offered by these callers are fake, and if you speak with an operator, you’ll be coerced into sharing your Social Security number and bank information.
- COVID-19 calls: These scam calls are becoming more common as the year drags on. There are a few variations, including calls that claim to have treatment information and calls that claim there is an outbreak in your area. If you speak to an operator, you’ll be pressured into sharing personal information. Tap or click here to see COVID-19 robocalls you need to watch out for.
- Election calls: These, thankfully, should stop happening as much once the election is over — but they’re an absolute menace right now. These calls range from donation requests to spoofed candidate messages asking for support. If you take the bait, you could end up losing money or personal information.
If you get the hint that any calls follow the scenarios above, just hang up. You’ll be wasting your time speaking to anyone on the other line. In addition, always remember these tips if you want to stay as safe as possible:
- Callers like pollsters and campaigners rarely offer prizes. Consider any robocall with a reward, payment or prize for you a scam.
- If a caller asks for any kind of financial information, hang up. Legitimate callers will never ask for this (other than your utilities, of course).
- If a caller uses urgent-sounding language, hang up. A scammer impersonating IRS may threaten to arrest you, but they cannot do this over the phone.
- No legitimate caller will never ask for your Social Security number. Hang up the moment anyone asks for this.
It’s a lot of noise for us to deal with, but that’s the way things are until more enforcement actions are opened up to our agencies. In the meantime, at least we have some ways to give these robocallers a taste of their own medicine.