- 5 min read
Some robocalls you receive are perfectly legal. Many are not. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules prohibit most prerecorded telemarketing calls, commonly known as robocalls, unless the telemarketer has the consumer's prior written permission to place such calls.
Robocalls -- prerecorded computer-dialed telephone calls to consumers -- generate more than 200,000 complaints to the FTC each month. Learn what you can do to make robocalls stop.
Modern technology allows scammers, political campaigns, and other con artists blast out thousands of illegal calls a minute across the country at a little cost. The technology also allows legal, legitimate uses, too, such as appointment reminders from your dentist, school cancellation notices, flight changes and cancellations, credit card fraud alerts, and severe weather alerts from local government agencies warning you of a local disaster.
Legitimate Robocalls Are Okay
Anyone may robocalls your landline if the calls are informational and part of an existing relationship. An organization can use robocalls to your land line or cell phone for sales pitches if you gave them written permission to do so, such as entering information in a Web site form.
A salesperson using a manual dialer may call your landline without your permission. Cell phone sales calls follow different rules. With your permission, a salesperson may call your cellphone or send you a text message.
If you aren’t sure if you gave a company permission to call you, contact its customer service department. Ask to be added to the company’s do-not-call list. If a company makes a sales pitch when you’re on its do-not-call list, report it at National Do Not Call Registry. If you don’t know who is calling, see Scam Robocallers Are Not Okay below.
Political Groups, Charities, Surveys
Different rules apply to landlines and cellphones:
- Landlines: Political groups, charities, and public opinion researchers may place robocalls to your landline. A few states restrict political robocalls.
- Cellphones: Political groups, charities, and public opinion researchers need your consent to call or text your cell phone.
The most persistent, annoying callers are political campaigns. Your most viable option is to add your name and telephone number to the National Political Do Not Contact Registry. This non-profit, nonpartisan organization will send your name to local and national political parties, candidates, and political-action committees and ask them to remove you from their phone lists. This may not stop all calls because the registry has no force of law, and political campaigns can choose to ignore your request for no calls.
Your best bet to avoid political calls is to not share your telephone number on any form a political party will ever see. For example, some voter registration forms ask for your telephone number. Don’t provide it, and your number will most likely not fall into the hands of political callers.
Charities must be contacted separately as each calls you. There is no "Charity Do Not Contact Registry." Your best bet for avoiding charity robocalls is to not respond to any charity's robocall, or provide your telephone number to any charities you gift. Legitimate charities, such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, may ask you for your telephone number, but no legitimate charity requires you to share your number with them.
There's no known way of stopping survey takers from trying to call you.
Scam Robocallers Are Not Okay
Many robocall offers are scams, according to the FTC. Therefore, beware robocall offers that seem too good to be true. Here's a good rule of thumb: Most all one-time-offers and you-must-act-now sales pitches are scams.
Some robocalls tell you to press a number on your phone';s keypad to be deleted from their list. The FTC recommends you not do so, because that's a signal a live person picked up the call at a working number and listened to the sales pitch. Instead, report any information you have on dubious calls to the FTC and the National Do Not Call Registry.
5 Robocall-Fighting Options
You have five options to fight robocalls:
- Ask your phone service provider about call-blocking services. However, blocking numbers from past robocallers may not be worth the cost, as scammers change their numbers often.
- Contact one of the two winners of the FTC Robocall Challenge to use a technical solution to fight robocalling:
- Nomorobo is a cloud-based solution available today that allows legal informational robocalls (such as from your local school district) through, but blocks illegal calls.
- The second Robocall Challenge winner is not yet available as a product or service. Called "Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression," this is a proposal offered by two Google engineers who want to create an online database system of originating telephone numbers for unwanted solicitations, which telephone service providers — such as AT&T, Verizon, and your local landline service provider — will query every time someone or something dials your number. Known bad callers are blocked, and good robocallers (your local emergency services department or school system) are allowed to call.
- If robocallers are pounding your cell phone, consider porting your number to Google Voice. The no-cost Internet-based phone service offers a screening feature that asks callers to say their names before you pick up the number you forward your calls to, such as a land line or cell phone. This is a great option if you own a small business and cannot change your number or afford to miss client calls.
- Another good option for cell phones is the app Call Control. This highly-rated app keeps a blacklist of spam numbers reported by its users, and blocks those calls.