Fighting Relentless Robocalls
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Pre-recorded phone calls, or “robocalls,” are a growing problem in North Carolina. In addition to being an annoyance, some robocalls are illegal, and even a way for scam artists to try to steal your personal information.
Unsolicited commercial robocalls violate North Carolina law unless a live operator introduces the call and asks if you are willing to hear the recorded message. But some telemarketers ignore this, and my office receives thousands of complaints a year about unwanted robocalls. We’ve already received more than 2,800 complaints so far this year, with more complaints coming in each week.
Some non-commercial robocalls can be legal in North Carolina if certain conditions are met. Calls from pollsters, political candidates, health insurers, nonprofits, and other groups can fall into this category. Some telemarketers try to exploit these exemptions. We’ve heard of robocalls where merchants pretend to be conducting a public opinion poll about the presidential election in an attempt to make their call fit the pollster exemption. My office has also won money from political groups whose robocalls have gone outside the bounds of the law.
The most reported illegal robocall features a message from “Rachel from Card Services,” who promises to lower consumers’ credit rates in return for an upfront fee. More than 800 consumers have complained to us about this scam this year, up from 673 complaints in 2011. Another frequently reported robocall claims to come from the FBI, warning of high crime in your neighborhood and advising you to buy a home alarm system. We’re investigating to determine who is behind both of these kinds of robocalls, and we’ve sent Cease and Desist letters to alarm companies in North Carolina and Rhode Island who we believe are involved in the phony FBI calls.
My office has taken action to investigate companies behind other illegal robocalls and won judgments against them. We have won court orders banning illegal robocallers such as Media Synergy Group out of Virginia, which pitched NASCAR tickets and travel services, and Possibilities Unlimited of Illinois, which promised lower credit card rates, from calling North Carolina, and won hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties. However, there is still more work to be done as the number of robocalls continues to grow.
Technology has contributed to the robocall spike, making it easier for illegal telemarketers to reach more consumers while masking their location from the authorities. Using autodialers, robocallers can dial thousands of numbers a minute at a very low cost. Often robocallers can cover their tracks by “spoofing” other telephone numbers, so that the wrong number shows up on customers’ caller IDs. Scammers can also “rent” a caller ID and an identity for as little as a day or even a few hours, making them harder to track down.
But we believe technology can help us turn the tables on the telemarketers. The Federal Trade Commission recently announced a “robocall challenge” to the public, seeking new technological solutions to block illegal robocalls. The winning solution will receive a prize of $50,000 dollars.
Smartphone owners already have options when trying to block and track robocalls. Smartphone users can purchase and install call-screening apps that can be useful for tracking and blocking robocalls.
Take these steps to avoid being scammed and avoid future robocalls:
If you receive a robocall, hang up. Staying on the line to talk to a live operator will do no good in avoiding future robocalls. Never give out personal or financial information.
Do not respond to the invitation to press a number to avoid further calls. This alerts robocallers that they have reached an active number instead of a fax or a disconnected number, and could actually lead to more unwanted calls.
Join the Do Not Call Registry.
Call (888) 382-1222 toll-free or visit www.donotcall.gov
to add your phone numbers to the registry. Commercial robocalls without a live introduction are illegal whether or not you have joined the registry, and it is also illegal for most live telemarketers to call registered numbers after they have been listed for 31 days. . If you have already joined the Do Not Call Registry, be very skeptical of any robocalls you receive.
Report illegal robocalls to us.
File a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov
or contact my Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Your complaints give us valuable information that can help us take action against unlawful telemarketing calls.