If you — like basically everyone else — hate getting annoying robocalls, you've probably sworn off answering incoming calls from numbers that you don't recognize. But have you noticed that lately, a lot of those strange numbers popping up on your screen have the same area code as you? No, you're not imagining things — but yes, you're right to not pick up. Here's why.
As technology advances, so too, unfortunately, do scammers. New programs allow companies to engage in a process called "neighbor spoofing." Basically, there is software that allows telemarketers to mimic your area code on their phone calls so that you pick up the phone thinking it's someone you actually know. Unfortunately, as you might have learned, when you answer the phone, it's not your neighbor but actually a person posing as a debt collector or a machine telling you that you won a sweepstakes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the government organization that is tasked with dealing with this issue, is aware of the problem and has taken steps to make it easier for people to report robocallers. Ajit Pai, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, another government agency that's working on fixing this situation, said in an interview with the NPR's "Planet Money" podcast that he even received neighbor-spoofed spam calls on his work phone.
How to Stop Robocalls
Step one is to register for the place your number on the National Do Not Call Registry if you haven't already, according to Janice Kopec, head of the FTC's Do Not Call program. This will stop legitimate telemarketers from calling you, Kopec said. You can also check whether you've already registered your number.
To combat those illegitimate telemarketers, Kopec recommends first complaining to the FTC. If you feel like your complaints would just end up in an inbox somewhere that no one checks, you're not alone — but Kopec says filing a Do Not Call Registry complaint is helpful nonetheless. "It helps us with our law enforcement. We do go after these guys. We've brought over 130 cases targeting people who violate the Do Not Call rule or blast out illegal robocalls," she told FIRST.
Additionally, "We release all of the numbers that are reported to us that consumers complain about getting calls from every business day to the public," Kopec said, and those numbers inform call-blocking services — something we'll get into in a second.
Kopec's last recommendation is to find out whether your phone providers offer call-blocking, call-filtering, or some kind of call-labeling service. "If they don't, we really encourage consumers to say, 'Why don't you?'" Put pressure on providers; they should be offering these services, and they should be offering them for free or [in] a way that's easy to get access."
Call-blocking apps are available for most smartphones, and there are dozens of available apps to choose from in your phone's app store — some free and some that cost money. Visit CTIA for an extensive list of apps that are available. These apps to block robocalls will prescreen your calls and block messages from numbers that have been flagged as fradulent, as well as those that enter with an "unknown" caller ID. Other apps have the additional capability of reverse looking-up the caller ID to determine where exactly the call is coming from.
Your most basic option (and possibly your last resort) is to not answer the phone. If you do pick up, you're telling the computer on the other end that the number it's dialing is, in fact, a real telephone number. The risk then is that your phone number ends up in another database for robocalls and you receive even more in the future.
It's a good idea to avoid giving away your phone number if it's not required when you're signing up for a service. Who knows who else will have access to that company's list of customers' information — including your phone number?