NASHVILLE - It's a scenario that's playing out with increasing frequency: You answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person. These are robocalls, and while some are valid and necessary (such as emergency evacuation notices) most are telemarketing sales calls that are against the law.
With more and more Tennesseans being badgered by these robocalls, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance's (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs is sharing information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on mobile phone apps that can help consumers combat robocalls.
Telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages are generally illegal unless you have given the company written permission to call you. The FTC has reported a significant increase in the number of illegal robocalls because Internet-powered phone systems have made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information (call spoofing).
What can consumers do to stop these unwanted calls? One option is a robocall-blocking app for your cell phone.
Robocall blocking apps can give you the ability to do things like:
• Prescreen your calls before the phone rings.
• Block certain types of calls, including calls that others have flagged as fraudulent or unwanted calls.
• Block anonymous calls that show up as "Unknown" callers.
• Use reverse lookup to detect fake caller ID information from call spoofing.
Which app works for you might depend on your phone's operating system. Before you consider downloading any app, think about the call protection that you need and do your research. CTIA, a trade association representing manufacturers and providers of wireless products and services, has a comprehensive list of call blocking apps.
While the FTC is working to develop technology-based solutions to deal with robocalls throughout the U.S., scammers who target Tennessee consumers with caller identification spoofing now face additional punishments thanks to legislation passed this summer by the Tennessee General Assembly.
SBO511/HB1050 revises the Anti-Phishing Act of 2006 by making it a Class A misdemeanor to send inaccurate or misleading caller ID information with the intent to defraud, harm or steal. Under the legislation, the Attorney General may seek a court order and recover a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.
While the legislation adds greater punishment to scammers, the Division of Consumer Affairs reminds Tennessee consumers to be aware that scammers could be targeting them with ID spoofing.
• Don't answer the phone if your number shows up on your phone's Caller ID.
• Don't attempt to call the number back, and do not press any buttons if prompted.
• If you do answer the call, don't give out your personal or financial information. Never give your personal information over the phone to someone you don't know.
• If you believe you're the victim of an ID Spoofing scam, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
• If you lost money on a scam as a result of ID Spoofing, immediately report the theft to your local police or sheriff's department.
For more information about robocalls, visit FTC's website.
For more consumer resources, visit the TDCI Division of Consumer Affairs at www.tn.gov/consumer.