Those robocalls aren’t just annoying, they’re also illegal

RBC | Tired of scrambling to answer your cell phone only to find your caller is a robocall, or worse, a scammer? You’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers have been targeted with more than a billion illegal robocalls each year.

Robocalls are prerecorded messages auto-dialed by a computer. In limited instances, robocalls are permitted: flight cancellations, credit card fraud alerts, and similar important notifications. To be considered legal calls must meet three requirements:

1. Federal law requires all calls using prerecorded messages to identify the caller and include a telephone number or address where the caller can be reached. In most cases, an “opt-in” is required (in other words, you signed up for something somewhere).

2. Legal robocallers must honor phone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry.

3. Emergency information necessary to the recipient—like the above mentioned fraud alert—do not require an “opt-in” to place a call.

In 2018, the (FTC) went to court to try and stop multiple defendants from engaging in deceptive practices related to robocalls, including “neighbor spoofing” (an illegal technique that that falsifies the caller ID number to make it look like a local call), calling numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, abandoned calls and other violations.

The FTC is warning people about a growing number of scam calls that appear to be from the Social Security Administration. In 2017, 3,200 people contacted the FTC about these calls which try to get your Social Security number or your money. In 2018 that number increased to 35,000 people, with monetary losses of $10 million. Why so many? Partly because the call looks like it’s coming from the real Social Security Administration phone number, but it’s not. Scammers say your Social Security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity or because it was involved in a crime. Occasionally they say your bank account is threatened and direct you to put your money in gift cards and give the caller the codes.

How to avoid being scammed?

Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls out of the blue. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.

SSA will never call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash or put money on gift cards. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.

The real SSA number is 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are putting that number in the caller ID. If you’re worried about what the caller says, hang up and call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to the real SSA. Even if the wait time is long, confirm with the real SSA before responding to one of these calls.

Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Or your bank account or credit card number.

If you get one of these calls, tell the FTC at

Scam calls related to the IRS tend to increase this time of year. IRS imposters either demand money or try to trick you into sharing information. According to the IRS, there are five tell-tale signs of a scam call. The IRS will never:

Call to demand immediate payment, nor will we call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

Additionally, the IRS will not use unsolicited email, text messages or social media to discuss your personal tax issue.

So what if you’ve already signed up for the Do Not Call Registry and you’re still getting calls on your cell phone? There are a few options:

Block calls from numbers that aren’t in your contact list.

Install an app (some cellular providers have provider-specific apps) for a fee, or install a third-party app like Nomorobo or RoboKiller for a monthly fee.

Make sure your cell phone number is in the Do Not Call Registry: To register by telephone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). You must call from the phone number that you want to register. To register online (, you will have to respond to a confirmation email. Expect it to take 30 days for the sales calls to stop.


By HT STAFF | Special to the Herald Times