If technology is so pervasive that Big Brother is watching us, and Facebook knows everything about us, why do so many of us still receive seemingly endless unwanted calls? I am one of those people who receive hundreds of robocalls calls every year. When I did some research into the technology behind how a phone call works in today’s world, the solutions to stopping the problem are surprisingly complicated.
For many of us who receive unwanted calls, the biggest culprit are robocalls. The Federal Trade Commission is the agency that regulates telephone rules in the US and it defines robocalls as an automated dialing system that plays a recording when the phone is answered. It is actually illegal for companies to use a robocall system to call you unless they have your written consent to receive those calls. And, if you agreed at one point, but change your mind later, the entity calling you has to stop whenever you tell them to do so.
There are exceptions to this rule – political candidates running for office can use robocall systems to call anyone, as can charities. Other exceptions apply to entities who call you for purely informational purposes like reminding you of an appointment or to tell you that your flight is delayed. Also excepted are debt collectors, and some healthcare providers who can call you and tell you a prescription needs to be refilled or picked up. That seems like a lot of exceptions, resulting in a lot of calls, doesn’t it?
Another wrench in solving the unwanted call technology problem is that most illegal robocalls use a technique called “spoofing.” That’s jargon for making your Caller-ID show a phone number that looks like it’s a call from someone in your neighborhood. That means the area code is the same as yours, and often matches up to the first three numbers of your phone number prefix.
So, what can we do to cut down on the number of legal and illegal robocalls? Unfortunately, the process is not straightforward.
Make sure you register any phone number, cell phones or land line phones, with the National Do Not Call Registry or call 1-888-382-1222. Legal sales calls should stop within 30 days and your phone number registration will never expire (unless you take that number of the list). If you receive sales calls after 30 days, you should report unwanted calls at the same website or phone number. Unfortunately, in today’s world when work and personal lives often intertwine on our digital devices, you cannot register your number in the FTC “Do Not Call” list if you have ever given that phone number to anyone for business purposes.
My experimentation with the various options my cellphone service carrier and the FTC website explained were currently available, led me to the conclusion that there really is only one dependable choice for those of us who get piles of unwanted calls—subscribe to a call blocking service.
A temporary, immediate measure is to use the “block call” feature freely available on most cell phones. This will block any number for 60 days (if you phone uses Verizon or AT&T services). Every cell phone service provider has its own rules and timelines on when numbers will be un-blocked. The reason the “block call” assignment isn’t permanent is because many illegal robocalls are “spoofed” numbers. Cell carriers don’t want to suddenly find themselves with hundreds of thousands of permanently blocked, unusable phone numbers making it impossible to sell customers a new phone and number.
In my case, years ago I bought a cell phone while living within a west code area code in which I lived for a job. It also happens to be a state that is a political “swing state.” Consequently, a massive number of illegal and legal calls come to me from that area code. I almost changed my number in hopes of cutting down on those calls, but I learned that purely by accident of having having a phone from an area code in which none of my friends and family live, it is easy for me to detect unwanted calls -even spoofed calls- at a glance. There is also little downside to using a call blocking service to permanently block any call from that area code. According to the call blocking service I subscribed to for less than one year, I have logged nearly 600 permanently blocked phone numbers from that area code alone. That has led to a joyous amount of silence coming from my phone for three months and counting.
There are some other suggestions for cellular, VOIP, and landline phones, to help you block unwanted calls, or at least divert them straight to voicemail without interrupting your day, on the FTC website https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-block-unwanted-calls.