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Remember the National Do Not Call Registry? This database, authorized by the federal Implementation Act of 2003, contains a list of phone numbers of individuals and families who have indicated that they do not want telemarketers to contact them. At the time of its creation, it was widely heralded as a big step forward for consumer privacy, and one that was well-timed on the eve of the surge in popularity of mobile phones.
VoIP and the rise of robocall scams
Too bad it’s basically irrelevant now. If you have noticed a big uptick in the number of unsolicited calls in recent years, you’re not alone. Call blocking software vendor YouMail estimated that there were 48 billion such calls made in the U.S. in 2018, up from 30 billion the year before. The culprit? Mostly Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony.
You might already use VoIP within services such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and Skype. VoIP allows calls to be made over the internet instead of traditional phone lines. In some cases, these calls be sent to the main phone network and associated with specific phone numbers, which is problematic for caller ID.
The caller ID system, which dates to the 1980s, doesn’t validate numbers and has in turn been overwhelmed by VoIP providers that allow each call to be associated with a different number even if they’re all coming from the same source. In practice, this translates into your phone receiving calls from numbers in the same or adjacent area codes, increasing the likelihood that you’ll pick up since you think it might be from someone you know.
These calls help fuel a massive fraud industry. The U.S. Federal Trade Commision estimated that scammers cost consumers $1 billion in 2017, with 70% of that total being attributable to phone scams. What can you do to avoid fraud?
4 easy tips for protecting yourself against scams over the phone
There are proven ways to reduce the risk of a phone scam:
1. Send the call to voicemail
This time-proven tactic lets you see if the caller has anything real to say. Most of the time, a scammer won’t leave voicemail or will leave a message of only a few seconds of silence. If they leave a real message…
2… Recognize the common fake stories
Many scammers fall back on the same tall tales. Some examples include saying your vehicle’s extended warranty (which it probably doesn’t even have) has expired, that you’ve won a large cash prize and that you have the opportunity to invest in assets that provide a higher return than what’s available to the public. Also be wary of instructions telling you to act quickly or provide information about a bank account.
3. Block the number
While blocking numbers from VoIP callers is sort of like cutting heads off the Hydra, you should do it anyway so that you get fewer calls from known fraudulent numbers. Both iOS and Android allow you to easily block phone numbers.
4. Install additional software to stay safe
Mobile antivirus software and call screening tools can shore up your protection. AV apps shield you from any malware that a caller or email scammer might instruct you to download, while tools such as Google Assistant can automatically screen any phone call to see if it’s from a real person and what they want.