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What Can be Done About Robocalls?

More than 5 million complaints have been sent to the FCC over violations of the Do Not Call list. (Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr)
More than 5 million complaints have been sent to the FCC over violations of the Do Not Call list. (Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr)
November 20, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – It's not just a figment of people's imagination. More Americans really are getting robocalls this year, and there is a very real frustration with them.

The number one complaint to the Federal Communications Commission is from customers receiving machine-generated calls used to scam them.

Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with Consumers Union, says complaints to the FCC about violations of the Do Not Call list are up to 5.3 million this year, compared with 3.6 million last year.

She says people should look to their phone service provider, which has the best technology for blocking these calls, although it depends on the carrier.

"Most of those phones can access a free service called Nomorobo that automatically identifies and blocks unwanted robocalls,” she advises. “And volunteer testers for Consumer Reports rated that service favorably."

Mahoney says Nomorobo has an app for iPhones that costs $2 a month. Other apps also are available.

Last week, the FCC approved new rules allowing phone companies to be more proactive in blocking illegal robocalls.

However, Mahoney and one of the FCC commissioners have criticized the new rule for not mandating that these services be free.

Mahoney says unfortunately, it can be harder for people with a landline phone. There are devices that plug into phones to block calls, but she says those can cost $50 to $100.

One of the newest techniques scammers are using is called "neighbor spoofing," where a call comes in with a local area code to make it more enticing to pick up. These calls also are harder to track down.

Mahoney says robocallers in general are hard to find, and there's a strong incentive to keep doing it.

"Oftentimes, by the time they are tracked down, they've already spent all of their ill-gotten gains, so it's difficult to recover any money from them,” she concedes. “So that's why we think it's so important for the phone companies to offer free technological solutions to the robocall problem."

About $350 million a year is lost to phone scams, according to Consumers Union. People can go to the union's petition to phone company CEOs urging them to provide free services to block unwanted calls at Endrobocalls.org.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID