September 16, 2020

Political phone scams: What you need to know before making a campaign donation

Political phone scams: What you need to know before making a campaign donation

It may feel like there's no end to the election season — you've likely noticed an increase in political messages as the 2020 Presidential Election approaches in November. As political messages rise, so do political donation phone scams.

Political campaigns of all kinds use robocalls and robotexts, because they’re both quick, easy, cheap, and they can reach a ton of people. Want to reach thousands of potential supporters on a budget (and time crunch)? Political robocalls and political texting are ideal canvassing tools.

Unfortunately, not all political messages are used for honest campaigning. Scammers often pose as PACs or parties soliciting donations, only for you to find that your money is not going to where you'd like it to.

Robokiller, the app that eliminates spam calls and texts, typically sees a large increase in political donation scam messages during United States election seasons. In this post, we'll cover the basics of legitimate political messaging and how to avoid falling for political donation scams.

Why do you receive political robocalls and text messages?

Starting in the early 2000’s, politicians began increasing their campaign investments in political robocalls and text messages because they have higher engagement rates and are more effective than traditional methods like TV ads.

Unlike illegal robocalls and text messages, you likely don’t receive political messages at random. Information about your political party affiliation, the area you live in, or even past political donations become accessible to campaign groups when you register to vote and identify your political party preference. Campaigners can also purchase data from third-party companies to obtain your phone number, demographic data, and even voting preference!

How do politicians, PACs, or organizations use political robocalls and texts for their campaign efforts?

  • See where voters’ heads are at. It’s crucial to know what voters care about, so campaigns use poll surveys to gather statistics on exactly that. They can use political robocalls to survey voters through the phone’s dial pad. Multiple choice questions let campaigns get insights into what voters think about upcoming elections, and depending on their answers—voters can be added to specific call lists.
  • Instant gratification (and instant response). Think political robocalls are a one-sided conversation? Think again. Campaigns can get instant responses about voter sentiment and issues they care about. Press-1 Campaigns let voters give feedback by choosing options. With the click of a button, they can also choose to speak with a live person.
  • Keep voters engaged. If they choose to, voters who receive a robocall can be transferred to speak to a live person. All they have to do is select that option. This helps campaigns reach people with information about dates and events, and it also helps them to connect on a personal level—allowing voters to express their grievances or ask questions.
  • Personalized courses of action. Campaigns can optimize their call lists by assigning voters to lists, depending on their responses to survey robocalls. Voters who prefer to not be contacted can also be added to do-not-call-lists that prevent campaigners from contacting them.
  • Solicit donations. Many political campaigns utilize political robocalls or text messages to generate campaign donations. With political text messaging, it is easy to provide a URL to a website that can easily collect political donations. This is much easier than trying to solicit campaign donations through a television ad or a robocall.
  • Analyze conversions. Analytics help campaigns track the success of a voice campaign. They can get a sense of how many people they’re reaching and what their responses are. These responses can also fuel national-level insights into campaign progress from organizations such as FiveThirtyEight. From this information, campaigns can optimize their outreach.

Are political messages legal?


As the presidential election approaches, you should expect to be inundated with political donation phone scams. That’s just the truth of it. There will likely be an increase in calls and texts promoting different political agendas.

These calls and texts (like those from debt collectors, charities, and alerts) are totally legal, as long as political campaigns follow the FCC’s rules. What exactly are those rules? The rules actually depend on whether a call or text is delivered to a landline telephone or a cell phone. Landline telephones are more fair game than cell phones, because campaigns don’t need prior express consent to contact them.

Cell phones, on the other hand, have a different set of rules. According to the FCC, “Autodialed live calls or text messages and prerecorded voice messages are not allowed to cell phones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the called party's prior express consent.”

Same goes for robotexts. These text messages, generated through autodialing, are subject to the same rules as robocalls. They require prior express consent. “However, political text messages can be sent without prior consent of the intended recipient if the sender does not use autodialing technology to send the text.”

If a voice call uses a prerecorded message, it must contain this information:  

  • Business’s, campaign’s, or individual’s identity
  • Contact information, like phone number

Here’s another component that influences what you can expect this election season. In late 2019, President Trump signed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act to protect consumers from unsolicited robocalls, including political calls. It requires service providers to authenticate calls, which will hopefully help prevent spam and scam calls.

What’s that mean for 2020 voters, really? Now that phone carriers are required by the TRACED Act to authenticate caller IDs and make sure that the information being displayed is accurate, voters can hope to know who some of these robocalls are actually coming from. It doesn’t mean they actually will know who’s calling all of the time, because scammers always find a way.

With regulations cracking down on robocalls and robocallers having more difficulty actually reaching people with their current strategies, you can expect political campaigns to employ updated tactics. For example, there has been a surge in peer-to-peer (P2P) text messages.

What is peer-to-peer text messaging?

What’s P2P? It’s been around for a few years, and it’s becoming a key component a lot of political campaigns. Here's an explanation from a peer-to-peer texting organization, Peerly.

NPR says, “Unlike robotexts or calls, peer-to-peer texts are personal messages that come from volunteers who initiate a conversation with potential voters or supporters. Messages can range from asking people to vote on Election Day to providing polling location information.

Peer-to-peer text messaging been found to be more effective than the typical robocall, because texts reach voters directly and can be interacted with on the recipient’s own time. Peer-to-peer text messaging is also preferred because it works around United States robotext laws that require prior consent before sending mass text messages.

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With peer-to-peer political texting, political campaigns can reach Americans in large numbers without having their consent because it is technically a text message from an individual phone number rather than a mass text message.

Are political messages wanted?


It depends. For some, receiving political robocalls or text messages for a political party or candidate they support is exciting. It's great to feel part of a campaign effort and cause, and political messaging can be a great way to stay in the loop.

For others, especially during a contentious political time in the United States, political messages are unwanted. This is because these messages are often trying to get the recipient to either vote for or donate to a party, person, or cause they do not support.

New rule: If a political candidate or cause sends me a fundraising text message, they will not be getting money from me. Just stop folks. It's intrusive and annoying. — Joshua Lamel (@jlamel) September 14, 2020
Whoever signed me up for the conflicting political party’s text message campaign with no “STOP” reply command... I hope you step in a puddle and have soggy socks all day 😤 — trish reynolds (@trismit_) September 16, 2020

Can you unsubscribe from political messages?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is not easily.

Registering your phone number on the Do Not Call List in attempts to stop political messages will not help—political calls/texts and charities are not required to follow the Do Not Call List by law.

The best way to reduce the political messages you receive is to update your voter registration to remove your associated phone number, follow the instructions from the FTC here, and/or enlist a third-party call and text blocker like Robokiller or Textkiller.

Are all political messages you receive legitimate?

The short answer here is no.

Like other types of phone scams, many phone scammers take advantage of the United States election season as a way to trick Americans into donating to their fake political robocall or political text message.

Thanks to caller ID spoofing, it is very easy for scammers to make their robocalls or text messages look as though they are associated with a legitimate political cause or organization. And, because caller ID spoofing is nearly untraceable, it's very easy for them to get away with it!

Here's what to look for to avoid falling for a political donation phone scam

Scammers, as we all know, look for any opportunity to scam. The election season is no different. As the presidential campaigns continue to heat up, here are some of the potential scams to be aware of.

Political phone scam #1: Fake polls and surveys

Campaigns use polls and surveys to learn about their constituents, and scammers use phony polls and surveys to find new victims. Fraudulent pollsters may even offer enticements like money or prizes for participation in their poll or survey. If someone asks for your credit number to ship a potential prize? Do not give it.

What can you do? A legitimate survey may ask how you plan to vote or participate in the election. They might even ask about demographics like age and race. If they ask for more personal information like date of birth or social security number, that’s a problem. Do not engage.

Political phone scam #2: Voter registration scams

Typically people vote in person or via mail-in ballot, right? Some scams actually offer voters the option to vote by phone, email, or text. These are not legitimate ways to vote.

What can you do? If you wonder whether something about voting can be true, consult your state or local election information. To learn more about your state’s specific requirements and deadlines for registering to vote and voting, visit

Political phone scam #3: Political campaign donation scams

In an effort to take your money, scammers may pose as fundraising volunteers. Some other calls may also come from charitable organizations with good intentions and poor management — causing them to donate an incorrect amount of money.

What can you do? Be sure to research fundraising organizations before giving them money. Consider donating directly to a campaign via their website or local office. Like anything, be cautious of fundraising links sent by email or social media.

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Political phone scam #4: Political impersonation scams

Think you recognize a voice? Think again. Scammers can use recorded audio to solicit campaign contributions. It may be the candidate’s voice, but they’ve manipulated the recording to serve their scam. The scammer will request a donation, asking the victim to push a button to speak to a campaign representative. This can be confusing, because legitimate campaigns do make similar calls.

What can you do? Again, it’s usually the safest bet to donate directly to campaigns via their official website or campaign office. Be cautious about oversharing your credit card or financial information, because you risk identity theft and additional fraudulent charges.

Political phone scam #5: Fraudulent political petitions

Campaigns use petitions to gather opinions and concerns from potential voters. It’s business as usual. But scammers can use phony petitions to gather your personal information. Legitimate petitions may ask for name, address, and phone number—but they should never ask for sensitive information like a social security or credit card number.

What can you do? If a caller starts requesting too much information, it’s best to opt-out.

How to protect yourself from political donation scams

Want to put a stop to political donation scams? There are some simple things that you can do. They won’t stop all of the scams, but maybe they can give you some relief. Here’s what to try:  

  • Avoid calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • If you accidentally answer a robocall, hang up. Don’t select an option to opt-out.
  • Register with the Do Not Call Registry. This won’t prevent scam calls, but it will reduce legitimate marketing calls.

The FCC also provides guidance to avoid charity or political donation scams. Read more about it here.

  1. Do research online about the organization requesting donations before going any further.
  2. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. That’s how scammers ask you to pay. To be safer, pay by credit card or check.
  3. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. That’s something scammers do.

Only Robokiller can provide comprehensive protection against wanted or unwanted political messages

To really make a difference, download a scam call and scam text blocker like Robokiller, that can block unwanted political messages that just keep coming after you've asked to be removed from a campaign list.

Robokiller goes beyond the usual means to put a stop to spam calls. Rather than rely on Caller ID, Robokiller uses AI and machine learning to get to the root of the problem. Its patented audio-fingerprinting algorithm can quickly identify and eliminate the scam behind the robocall, whether it’s the voice of President Trump or candidate Vice President Joe Biden or anyone else—to protect customers nationwide in milliseconds.

Click here to start your free 7-day trial of Robokiller now!

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