I have not heard from “Rachael, at Credit Card Services” recently, nor have I recently received the calls that I will receive a free medical call alert system. I am sorry to say that I will no longer be informed that I have won a free cruise nor will I be told that I can save having my mortgage refinanced at super low rates, or that my computer is infected with hundreds of viruses. The reason is that I am using a free service connected to my phones that automatically blocks most robocalls.
For several years, despite some internet rumors and hoaxes, the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov) has attempted to eliminate or minimize many of the “junk” phone calls that we receive on a regular basis. Just as many other laws on the books are only obeyed by honest people and ignored by the criminal element, honest telemarketers have generally followed the regulations promulgated by the Do Not Call program, but illicit marketers, phone spammers, crooks, and scammers still flaunt the law with a blatant disregard for us and our privacy. According to a recent article in the July, 2015 issue of Consumers’ Reports magazine online, “Every month more than 150,000 consumers complain to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission about “Rachel from Cardholder Services” or Microsoft “representatives” warning about a computer virus. “Robocalls have eclipsed live telemarketing calls” as a source of consumer complaints, says Bikram Bandy, program coordinator for the National Do Not Call Registry … . Aaron Foss, founder of Nomorobo, a call-blocking technology, estimates that 35 percent of all calls placed in the U.S. are robocalls. “For every 10 phone calls you get, roughly three to four of them will be unwanted robocalls,” he says.” Consumers’ Reports continues, “Just to be clear: Robocalls refer to autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing calls to landline home telephones or cell phones, or unsolicited text messages to wireless numbers. Autodialed informational messages, such as those announcing school closings or weather alerts, are permitted according to the FCC, as are calls to landlines on behalf of nonprofit groups and political campaigns.”
Recently, the number of robocalls and other junk phone calls that I have received on my two digital phone lines has decreased precipitously. I have signed up for a free robocall blocking service from Nomorobo (nomorobo.com). I read about Nomorobo in a recent column in the Consumerist (consumerist.com), an informational blog operated by the Consumer’s Reports magazine. In a recent posting, the Consumerist (consumerist.com/2015/07/28/consumers-put-robocall-blocking-devices-to-the-test) reviewed several commercially available hardware devices and online services that claim to block robocalls and other unwanted calls. After reading the reviews I decided to sign up for the free service from Nomorobo. One of the reasons why I chose Nomorobo was the fact that it won the “FTC Robocall Challenge” (robocall.devpost.com), defeating several other hardware and software competitors.
Nomorobo offers its free blocking service for digital phone subscribers connected through most of the major digital phone carriers, including Time Warner, Vonage, Ooma Premier, AT&T U-Verse, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and several other VoIP digital phone providers. Nomorobo is currently unavailable for traditional analog land lines and wireless phone services. Signing up for the service was very fast, and no credit card or other personal information was required. Simply choose your type of device and carrier, enter a valid email address, enter the digital phone numbers that are to be protected, verifiy the phone number, and the service almost immediately takes effect. Nomorobo detects and evaluates the caller on the first ring, and asks subscribers not to answer any call on that first ring, and to wait until the second ring before answering. Coincidentally, within five minutes of signing up and activating my Nomorobo service, the caller ID display on my phone, TV, and computer monitor showed a strange number as our primary digital phone rang once; it did not ring a second time as Nomorobo blocked the call. By the end of the evening, Nomorobo blocked three more calls.
Nomorobo only blocks illicit robocalls, and explicitly does not block or interfere with legitimate automated phone calls, and will still receive legal robocalls about prescription reminders, school closings, reverse 911 calls, doctor’s appointment reminders, and other valid forms of automated calls. Just this morning I received an automated call from my pharmacy informing me that a prescription auto-refill was ready, and could be picked up, that call getting through fine, not being blocked by Nomorobo. What is being blocked on a massive scale are the endemic telemarketing robocalls, often being made in clear violation of existing laws and regulations, frequently with “spoofed” (counterfeit) caller ID, and sometimes showing a faux local number on the caller ID. This deception is being done in order to deceive the recipient and encourage him to pick up the phone. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), telemarketing fraud cost American consumers an estimated $350 billion in 2011, predominantly initiated by a robocall.
A pernicious robocall example that I have written about In previous columns here, have been about the robocall scams that victimized local individuals. One of the most common and most egregious robocall scams locally and nationally is from a foreign caller with a spoofed (often local) phone number falsely claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows Technical Support, Geek Squad, or some other legitimate sounding service informing the recipient that his computer is badly infected with viruses and needs to be cleaned immediately. Instructing the recipient to allow remote access to the computer, this pseudo expert (who is really a crook working on a fat commission of whatever he scams from the victim) takes control of the computer and appears to remove hundreds of viruses and other malware. Sometimes the thief also sells and installs useless security software for an extra cost, typically charging a fee from $39 to $600 on the victim’s credit card. On several computers that I have personally cleaned after scammer does his nastiness, I have found evidence of identity theft (personal documents, email, spreadsheets, tax information, and other sensitive information downloaded by the crook), as well as new malware installed including key loggers to steal passwords and account numbers, a variety of software hijackers, and other malware. The crook also now has your credit card number, which is often resold on illicit websites by stolen credit card brokers. All of this damage done because the victim fell for the pitch in an illicit robocall.
According to the FTC, 77% of us find these robocalls to be very annoying. For those of us using digital phone services, such as those provided by cable companies, internet service providers, or third party VoIP providers (Vonage, Ooma, and others), this free robocall blocking service from Nomorobo (nomorobo.com) is definitely worthy of consideration. Signup is fast and easy, and the service can be stopped and discontinued at any time. If you are among the 77% that find robocalls annoying, Nomorobo may improve your quality of life by minimizing this common annoyance.