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Will Congress finally hang up on Robocalls?

It doesn’t matter whether you have a landline or a mobile phone. Robocalls can ring you up anytime, anywhere. And if it weren’t for the Democrat focus on impeachment this fall, a bill to sign them might already have been signed by the President.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. If you’re getting a lot of robocalls trying to sell you something, odds are the calls are illegal. Many are also probably scams.

If you’re like me, you are sick of receiving these calls. But unlike that “friend” on social media that tried and failed to persuade you to their way of thinking, robocalls continue to ring, ring and ring on your cell phone or home phone.

In a report released by the FCC earlier this year, it’s estimated that 45 percent of robocalls made to cell phones would be scams.  At least 90 percent of those calls are what is known as “spoofing” – making it look like you are receiving a local call, thus you might be more trusting of the person at the other end of the line and even giving them money or your personal information.

Let’s put it into a number for each one of us. A survey by the AARP Fraud Watch Network says an estimated 48 billion robocalls were made last year. That’s 146 robocalls for every man, woman, and child in the US.

According to an op-ed published by the news website The Hill, Americans actually receive more than 4 billion robocalls each month.

My personal war with robocalls began more than 5 years ago. My family and I had moved to another state and I kept my old telephone number so friends could still get in touch with me.

But it wasn’t friends who began calling. It was, you guessed it, robocalls. The calls are for health insurance, prescription services, car warranty and yes, even calls from India telling me my “Microsoft warranty had expired on my computer.”

I would receive anywhere from 7 to 10 calls a day. When I returned to Oklahoma last February to bury my mother, there was still no peace in which to mourn. I received at least six robocalls on the day of her funeral.

I even ended up recently with a call from Russia. So instead of playing along, I blocked it. But my question is: How long will it be before they use another number and call back?

Although two separate bills were passed respectively by the House in July and in Senate back in May to stop companies from making robocalls, the American public will have to wait until Congress gets done with impeachment proceedings and finds the time to come up with a final version of the bill that is acceptable to both bodies to send to the President for his signature.

What You Can Do to Stop Robocalls Right Now

The FCC suggests the following tips on its website.

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be Aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. If the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal – period.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.

If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voice mail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.

Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.

If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.

To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

Consumers can file complaints with the FCC by going to fcc.gov/complaints.  You can also contact the FTC to report your experience. You can do that online at ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

You should choose the phone form and the unwanted calls issue for all complaints involving unwanted calls, including if your number is being spoofed, blocked, or labeled.

If you have a complaint about telephone fraud or telemarketers who have disregarded the Do Not Call list, file a complaint with the FTC.

Other Ways to Battle RoboCalls

If you’re like me, you don’t want to pay extra to stop spammers from calling you. After all, you pay for the phone, why would you want to pay even more to stop robocalls?

You would think that your phone carrier would supply some aid in fighting unwanted calls. Some carriers do, some do not. Others charge for the service.

The free app that I’ve had the best luck with is YouMail and I’ve tried several.

In September, Mashable recommended 7 of the best robocall blocking apps and tools for avoiding phone spam, including the best free app, the best-paid app, and even the best for getting revenge on spammers app. (Yes, now it’s getting serious.)

Will Congress Give the American Consumer a Law Against Robocalls This Session?

The final bipartisan bill concerning robocalls is currently being hashed out between the House and Senate.  If not for impeachment, the proposed measure could be agreed upon by the end of this session. If Democrats continue impeachment proceedings and tie up both the House and the Senate in month’s-long proceedings, it could be next year, or later before robocalls come to and end.

So will Congress give consumers the ultimate Christmas gift of making robocalls illegal? Or will we have to wait until sometime in 2020 for our phones to continually stop ringing?

–Steven Warren

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