On December 30, 2019, President Trump signed a bill into law to protect Americans from incessant robocalls. It may take time to decrease the number of robocalls Americans receive, but nearly everyone involved with the bill believes it’s a step in the right direction.
What the bill entails
The bill is called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, or Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, named after key proponents of the bill, Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and John Thune (R-SD).
One of the main provisions of the bill requires phone companies to offer free robocall-blocking services at no additional expense to customers.
Under the bill, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must also:
- Develop call authentication protocols to ensure caller-ID information is correct;
- Report to the U.S. Attorney General if it finds multiple robocall violations with ill intent toward customers;
- Stop “one-ring” scams, which often originate overseas and can saddle customers with hefty charges; and
- Fine phone companies that violate the rules of the bill.
According to the bill, phone companies will be prohibited from charging customers for these extra services and provisions.
The bill does not pertain to legal robocalls, which may come from schools about closures or charities. Campaign-related robocalls from politicians are also permitted, but only if the owner of the phone has given previous consent to receive the calls.
It also does not pertain to companies calling you with sales pitches, which can be stopped by signing up for the “do not call” list.
Robocalls: America’s digital pest
According to YouMail, a firm that offers free robocall-blocking services, Americans received nearly 54 billion robocalls within the first 11 months of 2019. In November alone, Americans received more than 5 billion calls, averaging more than 167 per person per day.
A common type of robocall is a “spoofed” call, which is when a caller masks their identity by changing the number that appears on the screen or caller ID. The phone number is usually local, and the spoofer may even change the phone number to that of the phone they’re calling, leading to a very confusing situation.
Tier 1 mobile providers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have begun to implement a policy called STIR/SHAKEN which informs customers if a call is “scam likely” or “spam likely.”
What to do if you receive robocalls
It may take several months or longer for the law to reduce the number of robocalls Americans receive every day. Until that time, there are several steps you can take to avoid being scammed by robocallers and fraudsters:
- Don’t answer numbers you don’t recognize. Tell your friends and family you get too many robocalls, and to text you or leave you a voicemail if they need to contact you from an unrecognized number. Change your voicemail recording to let people know you will not call them back if they call from an unrecognized number and do not leave a voicemail.
- Save important phone numbers in your phone. Before you leave somewhere important like the pharmacy or doctor’s office, ask what phone number you can expect if you get a call from them. Save this in your phone so you don’t feel compelled to answer unrecognized numbers.
- Don’t speak. If you answer a call from an unrecognized number, don’t say anything–not even “hello.” Wait to see if a recording starts playing. If one does, hang up.
- Password protect your voicemail. If you’re able to do so, set up a password for your voicemail. If a robocall spoofs your phone number, the scammer can get into your voicemail and steal sensitive information which may be stored in your messages.
- Just hang up. Some robocallers will end their pitch with an option to press a number and decline future calls. This is usually a trick to get you to consent to more harassment. Never, ever do what a recorded message tells you to do, especially saying “yes” to anything.
- Don’t trust calls from government agencies. Social Security and Medicare scams are common. If you receive a call from a person or recording claiming to be with Medicare, Social Security, or another government agency, don’t believe them. Most government agencies will never contact you by phone, and they will never, ever ask for your personal information like Social Security number or bank account number. Hang up on these callers and call the number listed on the agency’s official government website to verify the agency was not trying to contact you in earnest.
- Use call-blocking services. Until the law starts to reduce the number of robocalls Americans receive, you can use robocall-blocking services. Most major mobile providers currently have free and for-a-fee services for both iPhone and Android phones. Other robocall-blocking services with free and for-a-fee options include YouMail and truecaller.
Robocalls are illegal. Report them to the FCC here or by calling 888-225-5322 and selecting option 4.