How scammers are trying to trick you into answering the call
LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET) - You've probably gotten the call from "Emily" or "Elizabeth" saying you've recently stayed in one of their resorts, qualifying you for big savings on their next deal.
Judy Bonsall in Appomattox County says she's gotten them or similar ones plenty of times. When asked if she's ever stayed in one of Emily's resorts she said, "No, I've never stayed at a resort. We stick to plain old hotels," with a laugh.
It's the No. 1 consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. One statistic from robocall blocker YouMail says shady companies are making 2.5 billion robocalls a month.
Tracey Turner has gotten plenty of these calls, too. "It's irritating because you know if you're at work and you gotta, you're answering calls in the middle of something three times a day," she laments.
And now, she's noticed the robocallers have gotten clever. "They were starting out with another number and then all the sudden they started using the 610 number, the local numbers," says Turner.
It's called neighbor spoofing. They're trying to make you think it might be someone you know. And in some cases, the number is someone you know, but the person on the other end is not. Their No. 1 goal is to get you to answer the call. The spoofers generate random numbers to use, and sometimes they end up using someone's real number.
Judy Bonsall has had her own number spoofed. "I've had two to three in the last couple of months, people have said, 'Did you just call me?' and at first I thought, well, maybe somebody misdialed or something to call me back, but they're all using the callback option, so it wasn't a misdial," she says.
WSET checked out some of the local-looking calls she's gotten. The very first one was a man who had never called her and had no idea his number had been used. Another one reached the voicemail for the ministry of Beulah Baptist Church. Other numbers were nonworking numbers.
WSET went to the FCC to see what's being done about it. Patrick Webre, the chief of Consumer and Governmental Affairs, says the agency is cracking down on illegal robocallers like never before. "Everyone receives them, I receive them, the chairman receives them, everyone receives them," says Webre. He shares consumers' frustrations. The FCC gets more than 200,000 illegal robocall complaints a year. Webre concedes that not everyone reports the calls, so there are likely far more.
These spoofed calls are illegal when they are trying to defraud, cause harm or obtain anything of value from you. "We find that when companies are spoofing numbers, not using their real number or not using their real business name, or their names, they're generally looking to steal money from you," says Webre.
And that's why your Do Not Call registration isn't working for these. The spoofers don't care about the law. You can try to block the numbers on your phone, but that won't do much good either "because they will change the number," says Webre. "So, if you block one number they'll just change to a different number, they'll spoof to a different number," he adds.
But spoofing itself is NOT illegal. Think about those calls you get from your child's school that there's a snow day. "The school can't be expected to call every parent individually on the morning of a snow storm. So, the school will hire a robocaller, a legit robocaller, to make those calls robotically to the parents," says Webre. They'll spoof the school system's number so you'll know it's OK to answer.
But for the scammers, the FCC has a three-fold plan of attack. It's working with phone companies on call blocking technology. It's working with the industry on better caller authentication technology for your caller ID. It's also going after the robocallers themselves, proposing more than $200 million in fines just this year. "We hope that a combination of the policies we've put in place, the work we're doing with telephone companies, and also our enforcement actions, our strict enforcement actions, are having an impact on illegal robocallers but we will always continue to do more," Webre says.
As for Judy Bonsall, it can't come soon enough, especially when she thinks about those who get suckered in. "I mean, elderly people probably don't even realize that it's a robocall or a scam and then they lose their life savings in a heartbeat," says Bonsall.
The FCC's No. 1 piece of advice is if you don't recognize the number, do not answer. The robocallers will assume it's a non-working number and eventually move on. Legitimate callers will leave a message.
Report it to the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission. They need the reports in order to track the trends in real time, like a particular number being used multiple times at once. Click here to report calls to the FTC. Click here to report calls to the FCC.
Find apps to block unwanted calls. Click here for a list of three potential apps.
And call your phone service provider for anything it may offer to cut off the unwanted calls.
For more information from the FCC on spoofing and robocalling, click here.