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What to Do About Robocalls

So far this year, more than 16 billion spam robocalls have pestered people across the country. So what's a person to do?

David Hunt has had it with the calls.

"I run a small business from my home," said Hunt. "It is imperative that I have phone access. I get robocalls beeping over actual customers."

He's complaining, and so are millions of other people sick of hearing telephone recordings. Incessant, unwanted, automated calls are the Federal Communications Commission's top consumer complaint and the top complaint to the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

"I get robocalls all the time," Healey said. "I get robocalls right to the office."

Healey says she is working with other attorneys general to stop criminal hackers.

"We want to protect consumers, but we need help from the federal government and the FCC, and we need help from the phone carriers and the technology platforms to change the technology to block some of this from happening," said Healey.

In July, an estimated 4 billion robocalls were made to U.S. phones. Not all robocalls are unwanted or illegal, but Healey says about one-third of them are fraudulent, and the criminals are getting savvier.

"Never give out private information, personal information, financial information to anyone," said Healey. "Some of these scam artists are so sophisticated they make it sound so real, and you just have to really have your guard up and assume that it's a scam."

How do you fight back?

  • If you don't recognize a number, let the call go to voicemail.
  • If you answer a robocall, don't respond in any way, just hang up.
  • Get on the state and federal do-not-call lists.
  • Ask your carrier about call-blocking services.
  • Install a call-blocking app on your mobile device.

Alex Quilici is the founder of Youmail, an app that foils robocallers and spam calls.

"We can look at the behavior of phone numbers, and get a very good, very quick idea if a number is behaving badly," said Quilici. "We are a downloadable app. It replaces your mobile voicemail. One of the things it does is it can greet the robocallers with 'This number is out of service,' which makes them go away."

But what about legitimate robocalls, like car recall notices?

Eric Troutman represents companies that use robocalls to relay information. He says the law pertaining to telephone communication needs to be updated.

"Congress needs to take another look at this issue please and pass a law that decides what is a robocall," said Troutman.

In June, Senator Ed Markey introduced the "Stopping Bad Robocalls" act in the Senate. The bill would direct the FCC to enact strong consumer protections for authorized calls and empower the FCC with strong enforcement tools.

Both the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission say they are working to stop illegal robocalls through tougher enforcement and increased penalties.

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