Robocalls are attacking our phones

From CNET Magazine: Americans get more than 2.4 million robocalls each month. In this edition of Ask Maggie, we tell you how to stem the flood to your mobile devices.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
Jason Schneider

It's not your imagination. Robocalls and texts really are flooding your mobile phone with scams, spam and attempts to swindle. Americans received 2.4 million unwanted calls every month last year, according to a report by the Federal Communications Commission. That's about 1 million more every month than in 2015.


Sadly, ridding the world of these annoying calls is tricky because some things, like weather alerts and messages from schools and public utilities, are also made using automated call technology. Phone companies don't want to block these legitimate calls.

Here's what you need to know to understand what's going on.

Why am I getting so many more annoying calls now?

These days, a telemarketer just needs a computer, a modem and a program that selects and dials numbers from a database. That's made it easy for scammers to make calls from overseas, where they're harder to trace and crack down on.

Wasn't the National Do Not Call Registry supposed to stop this?

Here's the thing: It's already illegal to send autodialed or prerecorded nonemergency calls to your wireless phone without your permission. It's just that scammers and phishers don't care if they're breaking the law.

Is it possible I've given consent without realizing it?

It's possible, but the FCC and Federal Trade Commission spell out that written consent is required. If you have consented to marketing calls as part of a contract, however, you can't revoke your permission without the other party's consent.

Watch this: How to stop robocalls

Are some calls exempt from the Do Not Call list?

Yes. Calls made for debt collection, charitable solicitation, political causes or campaigns and surveys are all exempt from the rules.

Is there anything I can do to stop or slow down all these calls?

Yes, there are several options:

• Ask your phone company to offer robocall-blocking technology for mobile lines. Most already offer some form of protection, although a few charge a fee.

• Use a robocall-blocking app, and be sure to alert those apps when a number has slipped through so they block those calls in the future.

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Mark Mann

• Don't answer a call from an unknown or suspicious number, since that tells scammers they've reached a legit line they can sell to other telemarketers and scammers.

• File a complaint with the FCC or the FTC. The FCC can issue warning citations and impose fines, but it doesn't award individual damages. The FTC can file lawsuits against companies or individuals violating its rules.

• Forward spam text messages sent from a phone number to 7726 (or SPAM), a free text exchange among wireless carriers.

The bottom line: There's no single solution to slowing down the flood of robocalls and spam texts. But with patience and the right approach, we can keep our heads above water. 

This story appears in the winter 2017 edition of CNET Magazine. Click here for more magazine stories.

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