The barrage of unwanted robocalls to private American telephones continues unabated. Seniors are a primary target. The callers use all sorts of ploys to try to trick us into buying dubious goods and services or to hand over vital information, such as credit card and bank bank account numbers, that can be used to defraud us.
Robocallers are tricky, to say the least. They may adopt a friendly, conversational tone so that we lower our defenses, or they may play on our fears and desires. When Rachel, from Credit Card Services calls, we may listen to her pitch out of fear that we might have overlooked a payment. We don’t want the kids to think that we’re letting car maintenance slide, so we may listen to Joe from the Auto Service Department when he calls to offer an extended warranty. We seniors love to travel, so why not listen when someone calls to offer a free cruise or a stay at a holiday resort?
You might think that law enforcement would protect us from these calls, and some steps are being taken. But efforts so far seem woefully inadequate. The Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida launched a suit against the company allegedly behind Rachel in June 2016, but I’ve had a couple of calls from her in the past few weeks. Meanwhile, our phone in New York State rings three or four times a day — sometimes more — with other unwanted calls.
What can we do to protect ourselves? Many of us already refuse to pick up the phone when we don’t recognize the caller, although that means enduring many annoying rings. Robocallers these days are able to spoof area codes, numbers, and identities in an effort to fool us into picking up anyway. The only thing to do then is to hang up as soon as we realize that we’re listening to the opening recording of a robocall or the voice of someone who is trying to sell us something. Pressing any buttons or saying anything may give robocallers information and alert them to the fact that they have reached a live number, resulting in even more calls.
Beyond eternal vigilance, there are some technical measures that can be taken against robocallers. An easy one is to punch *77 into your receiver. In most parts of the country this will enroll you in Anonymous Call Rejection, putting an end to calls from “unknown name, unknown number.” If, for some reason, you want to start receiving those calls again, punch in *87.
A much more powerful free tool, Nomorobo, is available if you receive your landline telephone service through an internet provider, such as Verizon Fios, Time Warner, Xfinity, or Frontier. Nomorobo uses data analysis to identify numbers being used to make robocalls and blocks them from ringing your phone. We’ve added Nomorobo at our townhouse in Virginia, where the service comes through Verizon FIOS, and the phone has been blessedly quiet.
Unfortunately, traditional landline providers have not yet adopted the Nomorobo technology, or something similar. That’s the situation at our home in the Finger Lakes, where our only option would be to purchase a device, such as a Sentry 3 or a Digitone Call Blocker. Judging from the reviews at Amazon, these devices can be a little tricky to set up, but are highly effective. If we were staying at our place in New York, we would probably buy a call blocker, since the robocall situation there is pretty bad.
What about cell phones? So far, I haven’t received many robocalls on my cell, but there have been a few. There are some cell phone call blocker apps that I might consider if things get worse — Nomorobo sells one for the IPhone for $1.99 a month, with an Android version promised for the future. Truecaller is a free app claiming millions of subscribers that offers caller ID, call blocking, and a global telephone directory. Privacy is the main concern with Truecaller — when you download the app, it crawls your contacts and adds them to its directory. That’s why the directory is so powerful. If privacy isn’t a concern, Truecaller may be for you.
Of course, anyone who wants to avoid telemarketing calls should sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, but that’s only effective with respect to law-abiding telemarketing firms. The problems seniors face come instead from the illegal robocallers employing techniques aimed at our vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s also a good idea to support the End Robocalls Campaign being led by Consumers Union. You can sign their petition at https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls/.