Spam Calls 101: Important Facts Everyone With a Phone Should Know

spam callsDo you know how to stop spam calls from flooding your phone?

If not, now is the time to learn:

  • What are Spam Calls?
  • Why Do You Receive Spam Phone Calls?
  • Why Traditional Methods of Blocking Spam Calls Don’t Work
  • How to (Really) Stop Spam Calls, Forever

What are spam phone calls?

Spam calls are, by definition, irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent over the phone to a large number of recipients – typically who have not expressed interest in receiving the message. More specifically, a message is “spam” if:

A) The recipient’s personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients

B) The recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent

Source: SpamHaus

Just like the food version of “spam”, spam phone calls come in many varieties. Spam calls can come in the form of fake numbers with area codes similar to yours, Blocked or No Caller ID, and sometimes even from your own phone number! And though their packaging may be different, they all have one thing in common: they are a daily nuisance designed to steal your money, personal identity, and precious time.  

Legal vs. Illegal Spam Phone Calls

There is no denying it – all types of unwanted calls are annoying. (Sometimes even from people you know!) However, there are a few major differences between legal phone calls that can be considered “spam”, and unsolicited calls that are against the law. Here are the major differences:

Legal Spam Calls

Legitimate companies are legally allowed to send calls to consumers’ cellular & landline phone numbers under some conditions. Legal spam calls typically come in the form of telemarketing calls, robocalls, and legal charities & market research calls.

Telemarketing & Cold Calls: Calls from a legitimate business of which a telemarketer requests the purchase of a legitimate product or service. Pro tip: always ask for validation of the company from which the caller is calling from in order to determine if the call is legal vs. illegal.

Legal RoboCalls: Automated telephone calls that deliver a recorded message. These types of robocalls are only permitted when an organization must communicate messages categorized as necessary consumer information. A few examples include information about appointment reminders, flight cancellations, updates from schools, and credit-card fraud alerts.  

Market Research & Legal Charities: These calls are equally annoying as telemarketing calls and are designed to solicit either information collection or charitable donations to a legally registered business or cause. Laws require callers from these organizations to identify themselves and provide a contact phone number at the beginning of the message.

Legal Spam Callers are Regulated More Than You May Think

The Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) puts consumers in charge of the number of telemarketing calls received to their mobile and landline phones. Before placing telemarketing calls, legally registered organizations must purchase the list of phone numbers registered on the Do Not Call Registry; the national list of phone numbers that do not wish to receive any telemarketing phone calls. Think of the Do Not Call List as the “unsubscribe from all emails” function, but for unwanted phone calls.

spam calls

Telemarketers must also abide by government regulations during a call with a consumer. The FCC states that the caller must always provide his or her name, the name of the person or entity on whose behalf the call is being made, and the telephone number and address where that person or entity can be contacted during the phone call. Legal telephone solicitation calls are also not permitted before 8 am or after 9 pm, and the caller is required to immediately accommodate any do-not-call request made by the recipient.

Source: Stop Robocalls: Using the Law as Part of the Solution

Illegal Spam Calls

Illegal spam calls are much more dangerous than they are a nuisance, simply because they have no regard for any government communication laws put in place by the FTC or FCC. Though the contents of the call may vary, they are all calling to steal something from you. No illegal spam caller is ever going to register with the government or buy into the Do Not Call List to place calls that are fraudulent by design – they are very much aware what they’re doing is illegal.

Illegal spam calls fall into two subcategories; illegal robocalls and illegal scam calls:

Illegal Robocalls:  Any non-emergency phone call containing a pre-recorded message that you have not given written permission to receive. These illegal calls can actually come from legally registered businesses of which are not appropriately following the law, such as the Resort Marketing Group, or illegal scammers that aim to pose as a legal organization in order to steal from you.

Illegal Scam Calls: Calls that are typically from a real person, which aim to steal your money, personal identity, or both. The most well known is the IRS scam, which has been reported to have collected nearly $14 million in fraudulent payments from unsuspecting consumers since 2013.

Though both legal and illegal spam calls are typically calling to solicit some form of payment or purchase, the primary difference between the two is fraud. While legal spam calls are definitely annoying, illegal spam calls are incredibly dangerous because the callers have no regard for the law or your well being – and will stop at nothing to successfully steal from you.

Why Do You Receive Spam Phone Calls?

There are many ways that your phone number can become a target of spam calls, but it is also very likely that your number was simply auto-dialed at random. A good way to check if your phone numbers are publicly available is to search for them in Google or other search engines. You may find that your phone number is associated with social media profiles that are accessible to the public and easily scraped by call list collection companies.

Technology has made it easy to find ways to scrape your personal information on the internet and public databases to find mobile and landline numbers and sell them to both legal and illegal spam callers. This is typically more a prominent issue for individuals who have their phone numbers listed publically, such as real estate agents and small business owners.spam calls

Legal businesses also sell “call lists”. These lists typically contain phone numbers of legitimate leads scraped through social media websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and are cross-referenced with the Do Not Call List. Organizations that partake in cold calling or telemarketing can purchase these lists or generate their own, but must comply with FCC or FTC rules and regulations. If they do not comply, they can face hefty fines and bad PR.

In other frequent instances, there is no method to the madness: your phone number is dialed at random. Using auto-dialing technology, spam calls can be placed in immense volume with little strategy or method to the phone numbers called. In these circumstances, the first call to the phone number is typically placed only to identify if it is an active phone number.

If the caller is unsuccessful in scamming or selling their product to the victim during their first attempt, the phone number will be flagged as “try again”. This could be due to the call recipient engaging with the caller, dialing a number to “opt out”, or requesting to no longer be called. This, in turn, will increase the number of spam calls you receive – simply because the spam caller knows they’re under your skin. For this reason, it is important to avoid answering or engaging with unfamiliar calls as frequently as possible. spam calls

Source: FTC, How does a RoboCall Work?

Why Traditional Methods of Blocking Spam Calls Don’t Work

Though it is unlikely that Alexander Graham Bell foresaw spam phone calls becoming such a prominent issue with US consumers today, the unfortunate truth is that the problem is only expected to persist. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans made 5.3 million complaints about unwanted spam calls in the 2016 fiscal year, and that number is expected to rise in 2017.

spam calls

As technology designed to help spam callers reach your phone has evolved, effective smartphone call blocking (surprisingly) has not. This is partly because of the public’s common misconceptions about effective spam call blocking solutions, and partly because phone and service providers have yet to invest in developing functionality that will help stop the problem.

Here are a few reasons why the solutions you thought would stop spam calls actually do not:

Phone Spoofing

Phone spoofing is the biggest technological development for spam phone callers, and is primarily to blame for the growing spam call issue worldwide. Phone spoofing is the practice of placing a call from a phone number other than the phone number you are calling from.

Phone spoofing allows spam callers to be more strategic in their methods to get you on the phone. Spoofing functionality allows spam callers to place calls from phone numbers that appear to be in your same area code, to make recipients believe they are receiving a call from their doctor’s office, mechanic, or school. Because each spoofed call can be placed from a unique fake number, they are close to impossible to trace to the true origin of the caller. The FTC and FCC cannot easily track these phone numbers because they simply do not have the technological infrastructure – and likely will not anytime soon.

Not only are spoofed spam calls are close to impossible to trace, they are also relatively cheap to make. It is speculated that it costs a spam caller anywhere from $0.01 to $0.05 per minute to place a spoofed call, which is pretty cheap when you consider the potential reward of millions of dollars fraudulently collected by these crooks! 

The Do Not Call List

The public’s misconception about the Do Not Call List is another reason spam calls are not subsiding. Many believe that after receiving a suspicious call or a confirmed spam call – it is best practice to register their phone number(s) on the Do Not Call List. As you’ve learned above, while this certainly will reduce the number of legal spam calls from reaching your phone, it definitely will not stop the spammers. We do recommend registering on the Do Not Call List if you wish not to receive legal telemarketing calls, but do not recommend you rely on the Do Not Call List as the all-encompassing solution.

Reporting Spam Calls to the Government

Phone spoofing has also not made the FTC’s job of reprimanding offenders any easier. Each time a spam caller places a spoofed call from a unique fake phone number, making the true origin of the call nearly untraceable. Although filing a report with the FTC can be helpful in identifying common trends of scam artists and preventing other victims from losing their hard earned dollars, the unfortunate truth is that the Commission simply does not have the advanced technological resources to reveal the true identity behind these illegal calls.

Features Built Into Your Mobile Phone

Lastly, using the features built into your mobile phone will never help you combat unwanted spam calls. The FTC states:

“Many mobile phones come equipped with features built into the device that can block calls from specific numbers. These features can let consumers block specific contacts, identify unwanted incoming calls for future blocking, and set “do not disturb” hours. You must manage these lists on your own, and the device may limit the number of calls you can block.”

Source: FTC – Blocking Unwanted Calls

There is one major problem with this recommended solution. Using the “Block This Number” function on your iPhone or Android will not fight the number of spam calls you receive thanks to phone spoofing. If the spam caller discovers there is another person on the other end of the phone and your number is flagged as “try again later”, you’ve only made matters worse. Spam callers will increase their attempts to get you on the phone – each time from a different fake number.  

How to (Really) Stop Spam Calls, Forever

Now that we’ve poked holes in nearly everything you thought you knew about spam calls, we want to let you in on a secret. There is a solution to the problem that actually works. The concept is simple – if spam callers can’t ever reach your phone, they can’t steal your time, money, or personal identity.

However, as you now know, this can be difficult to accomplish considering the challenges of traditional methods of spam call blocking. Because of this, the FTC recommends downloading a third party mobile app for the following reasons:

“Call blocking apps let you create blacklists – lists of numbers to block from calling your cell phone. Many of these apps also create their own blacklist databases from numbers that have received significant consumer complaints. They also let you create whitelists – numbers to allow – that are broader than just your personal contacts.”

Source: FTC – Blocking Unwanted Calls

Because the Commission’s rules and regulations don’t directly support blocking these calls, (nor do they have the technological infrastructure to support it), third-party apps are invaluable in the fight against spam calls. Not to mention, they are created by people who hate spam calls so much that they dedicated years to designing an app that will effectively stop spam calls for good.

RoboKiller Has Spam Call Blocking Superpowers

If you thought we would recommend downloading RoboKiller as the #1 solution to stop spam calls – you guessed correctly. But we’re not the only ones who think so! The Federal Trade Commission awarded RoboKiller as the winner of their most recent Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back Competition in 2015.  

RoboKiller stands apart from other call-blocking apps because it was not just designed to stop spam calls  – it was created to put spam callers out of business. Beyond offering the most effective spam call protection, real-time caller identification, and blacklist/whitelist functionality, RoboKiller also allows you to get revenge on spam callers using Answer Bots, hilarious pre-recordings that keep spam callers on the phone for hours. Check out our favorite one yet below:

RoboKiller is an easy investment to ensure your privacy and personal information is protected from annoying spam calls. Join the fight to stop spammers for good, all while enjoying a spam call free smartphone!  

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