Your phone rings. It’s from a number you don’t recognize – but it could be important.
Against your better judgment, you answer the phone and an automated voice message warns you about your expiring auto warranty. If you press one, a pushy salesman will sell you an extension on your existing warranty – or at least, that’s what you’ll think you’re buying.
Later, when the warranty is needed, you learn you paid money for something essentially worthless.
This is the nature of a robocall scam – to make millions or billions off phone calls to unsuspecting recipients, completely ignoring ‘do not call’ lists, in hopes a fraction of those who answer will fall for the scam and pay for something they don’t need.
Late last month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, along with attorneys general from every other state and Washington, D.C., joined a coalition with several large phone companies to discuss regulations and help crackdown on illegal robocall scams. Phone companies included in the coalition are AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream.
YouMail, a telecommunications company that specializes in handling robocalls, estimates West Virginia saw 14.1 million robocalls in August alone, 54.46% of which were scam calls. In other words, our state sees about 5.3 calls every second, and over half of the calls made are illegal.
Nationwide, America saw about 4.8 billion robocalls in the month of August, 44.65% of which were scams.
With so many calls being made all over the country, it’s no surprise state governments have taken notice.
In June, the FCC voted to change regulations and give phone companies the right to block unwanted calls without a customer’s permission. This was intended to allow phone companies to mass-block known robocall scams, although each company is left to implement this as they see fit.
Phone companies don’t actually have to do anything, and they could start charging you if they do – just as they now charge for some caller ID features and other extras. The FCC expects phone companies to offer these tools for free, but it doesn’t require them to.
Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, believes companies will be incentivized to block these calls free of cost, saying the calls are a burden on the companies’ networks, and they would benefit from being able to block them.
Some concern was raised about companies blocking legitimate calls by mistake, such as automated calls when there is a school cancellation or an automated reminder for an appointment.
There doesn’t seem to be a blanket solution to this problem, and likely never will be – the nature of technology is that it will constantly evolve.
Nevertheless, we hope to see at least some sharp reductions in the volume of robocalls around our state, and we’d like to remind everyone to be especially careful when the phone rings and you don’t know who’s on the other end of the line.