More and more Americans use only their cell phones as their sole telephone number, both to avoid the expense of an unnecessary land line and to try to avoid the relentless robocalls and telemarketers who interrupt many an evening meal.   Since 2009 most robocalls have been prohibited by Federal law (15 U.S.C. 6101-6108We Are Going To Send You a Gift!), regardless of whether the phone number is listed on the ‘Do Not Call Registry’, unless the consumer has previously stated, in writing, that he or she wants to receive automated calls from the company in question. However, some robocalls remain legal, such as those from political organizations or charitable groups, which are considered “informational” and are not trying to sell you something (Federal law regulating telemarketing and robocalls also has a loop-hole for some prerecorded healthcare messages made by or on behalf of a covered entity, like the Social Security Administration, or their business associates).

Unfortunately, our cell phones are the next target of the telephone scammers, and at this point, the ‘Do Not Call Registry’ is not strong enough. Likewise, internet voice technology makes it easier for the crooks to beat the system to get around the ‘Do Not Call Registry’ and hide their identity. The harsh reality is that as technology advances, so do the scammers. 

For some consumers, the robocalls are more than a mere interruption or annoyance.  There has been a recent increase in robocalls specifically aimed at senior citizens.  Some calls even promise a free personal medical alert device that can be sent to them in the mail.  Typically, the robocall claims that the free device is gift from a loved one, physician, or provided under the Affordable Care Act. Once the consumer presses “1” to receive more information, they are connected to a sales representative to lure their personal information and sometimes con the senior into paying for the device and services.  Then the victim’s credit card is charged thousands for the service for the “free” medical alert device. Others have reported never receiving a phone call, but instead receive a “free” device in the mail.  Afterwards the victim receives threatening phone calls and invoices to pay for the device.

Both local and federal law enforcement agencies are scrambling to keep up with the technology and the scammers.  One by one, the illegal robocallers are shut down, but new ones pop up every day.  In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission held a summit to address the issue of rising illegal robocalls and to develop a solution to stop the rapid increase.  For now the best advice is to simply hang up.  No matter what the robocaller tells you, do not give your name, personal information, or press any buttons. Many robocalls purportedly offer a “opt out” feature, suggesting that calls will cease if you “press 2 to be removed from our list”, but the reality is that by doing so you simply confirm that the robocaller has reached a working number that will listen to messages.  Often consumers find that the number of robocalls actually increase after pressing a button to “opt out” of future calls.

Finally, if you do receive unordered merchandise or a “free gift” addressed to your home, you are under no legal obligation to return it or pay for it. If you are harassed for payment or return of the merchandise, call the police. 

To file a complaint, visit www.ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC- HELP (1-877-382-4357).

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