Robocalls annually scam one in 10 Americans, to a loss of $9.5 billion

Computerized auto dialers deliver pre-recorded phone calls with 60 billion expected in 2019 alone. Here's how to handle robocalls.

5 ways to block spam calls Annoying spam calls are on the rise, and here's how to block 'em, explains TechRepublic's Tom Merritt

We don't answer mobile phone calls from numbers we don't recognize. Why? Because if you live in the US, you are very likely to be on a robocaller's list, and that unknown call is one of the 60 billion robocalls this year. An astonishing one in 10 Americans are scammed annually as a result of robocalls, to the yearly cost of a whopping $9.5 billion.

"Robocalls increased by 46% from 2017 to 2018," and numbers will increase this year, said Lily Lowe, tech specialist at All Home Connections (AHC), an authorized AT&T retailer. The massive influx of those 60 billion robocalls, and the resulting financial loss, were instrumental in the development of programs to recognize the difference between valid and invalid calls. 

And phone carriers have recognized the plague of robocalling or spoofing.

Last summer, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) announced and led the push for a new system  to combat spoofing (illegal caller ID), Caller ID authentication. The industry worked to implement the program, which has been referred to as SHAKEN/STIR, and is a framework of interconnected standards. SHAKEN/STIR are acronyms for Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) standards.  Through SHAKEN/STIR carriers digitally validate calls from other carriers before the call reaches consumers.

The goal of SHAKEN/STIR establishes "a reliable authentication system to strengthen call-blocking services and unmask spoofed calls," reported the FCC. The carriers involved from the start were AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Google, Sprint, TDS Telecommunications, T-Mobile USA, U.S.Cellular, Verizon and Vonage Holdings.

SEE: Electronic communication policy (Tech Pro Research)

But not answering unfamiliar phone numbers can lead to a host of other problems. What if the call is from a stranger's phone regarding a family emergency? What if it is about a job? 

Some carriers and smartphones help customers by posting "Scam Likely," in place of the call's phone number, or are developing software to recognize the type of incoming call.

"Scammers are very smart these days and have several different ways to get our phone numbers," explained Lowe. " Some of those ways include surveys or contests that we enter, and large scale data breaches from companies that hold your information. Scammers use spoofing technology that allows them to put in different zip codes or numbers that look safe to you. There is a ton of technology out there that online scammers can use or have created specifically for phone spoofing."

If you answer what turns out to be a robocall, you run the risk of becoming a victim of a scam, or, at the very least, very annoyed. Some robocallers present pre-recorded messages (some use such inflammatory language as, "An arrest warrant has been issued in your name," or opt for a seemingly benign, "take advantage of the free programs available to you.") Callers may have limited (or more) access to your personal information and pretend to be associated with legitimate government programs or businesses you actually patronize.

The latest carrier to announce a way to combat robocalls, AT&T, just implemented automatic-call blocking, "AT&T" Call Protect; there's also a "plus" plan which adds features for more protection, to block categories and customize, and is an additional $3.99 a month.  

Lowe said company offers the following tips to avoid fraud from unknown callers: 

Dos:

  • Do download an app (i.e. the AT&T Mobile Security and Call Protect app) to prevent more unwanted robocalls to your number.
  • Do make sure your voicemail is password protected.
  • Do verify the authenticity of any caller claiming to represent a company or government official.
  • Do check the facts—if you're donating to a charity, make sure it's a real organization and not a scam.
  • Do be aware that some websites are scams and even include fake testimonials.
  • Do join the National Do Not Call Registry, and report any unwanted robocalls at https://www.donotcall.gov/.

SEE: How imposter syndrome is infecting the workplace (TechRepublic)

Don'ts:

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. If you do, hang up right away.
  • Don't give out personal information (like your Social Security, checking account, and credit card numbers) over the phone.
  • Don't pay for shipping for "free gifts."
  • Don't believe any message about winning the lottery or free vacation, extending your car warranty, or investing in a "once in a lifetime" business opportunity.
  • Don't send cash or a money transfer (if you do fall for the scam, you'll likely never see that money again).
  • Don't feel pressured to make snap decisions over the phone. 

For more, check out "How to block (or at least cut down on) robocalls" on ZDNet, and "How to enable spam call filtering on your Android phone" as well as "RoboKiller v. Nomorobo: Which robocall blocker should iOS users choose?" on TechRepublic.

Also see

robot call center

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto