Here's How to Stop Those Annoying Robocalls

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By Brandon Ballenger

About once a month, I get a robocall from an eye doctor I visited almost three years ago, reminding me to schedule an appointment. It amuses me as much as it annoys me. Fortunately, it's the only robocall I get, and it's legal because I did business with them, and it's to a landline. But many automated calls are becoming more frequent and more infuriating. Weren't they supposed to be banned? Yes, says the Better Business Bureau, but that hasn't happened in practice.

The federal Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibits recorded sales messages unless you have given written permission for the caller to contact you, regardless of whether or not your number is on the Do Not Call registry. (And did you here there's a proposal to relax the rules?)

The Federal Trade Commission has used its enforcement authority to stop companies that have made billions of auto-dialed calls but acknowledges that technology has helped significantly increase these calls in recent years. This technology helps criminals generate calls from anywhere in the world and falsify caller ID technology to cover their steps.

It's also important to note that unsolicited, non-emergency robocalls to wireless phones are illegal, period. From the FTC: "Your written or oral consent is required for ALL autodialed or prerecorded calls or texts made to your wireless number. Telemarketers have never been permitted to make robocalls to your wireless phone based solely on an established business relationship with you."

In 2012 the FTC hosted a summit among industry leaders, consumer groups, tech experts and policymakers to figure out how to stop these calls, but to no apparent effect. So here are some tips from the BBB and Money Talks News. They're obviously not foolproof, but they're better than nothing.

1. Keep Your Number to Yourself

You know how businesses ask for your number for, well, everything? If you don't have to give it, don't. "It is a tacit invitation for them to call that number or sell it to a third party," the BBB says.

2. Tell Companies You Use to Buzz Off

As I mentioned above, it's not illegal for a business to make marketing calls if you have a relationship with them. So read the terms and conditions for your purchases and services carefully. Buried in those agreements might be a clause agreeing to these annoying calls.

If you find out too late that you agreed to their spam, you can still stop it by specific request. I just haven't because I'm both lazy and amused by the fact they haven't given up after two years of no response. Call them, keep a record of the date you made the request and follow up with the FTC if the business keeps harassing you.

3. Hang Up Right Away

"There is nothing to gain from attempting to reason with the people behind the calls," the BBB says. Contact your service provider to see if they have free blocking services -- but be warned: Your caller ID might show the wrong number because the latest technology can fool your service.

4. Don't Press Numbers

In the past, many people have recommended certain number combinations or the pound key to delete yourself from a robocall registry. Here's an example that appeared on the productivity blog Lifehacker. But does pressing the right numbers really take you off the list? The BBB says no, you're actually making it worse: "By pressing a number, you are confirming that someone is actually responding to the call, and you will likely receive more of them." This seems like something that maybe would've worked at some point, but scammers have gotten smarter and improved their systems.

5. Get on the Do Not Call Registry

Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It's free, your number is never taken off the list, and it will at least stop law-abiding solicitors. It's for both cell phones and landlines.

6. File a Complaint

If you've been on the Do Not Call Registry for a month or longer and still get calls, file a complaint with the FTC. This may seem like a waste of time, but it doesn't take long, and sometimes enough complaints can get policy changed. That's how most robocalling got banned in 2009, and it probably sometimes prompts the FTC to investigate and fine violators. If the call comes from an identifiable business, you should also report it to the Better Business Bureau.

7. Use a Free Service That Blocks All Robocalls

Nomorobo is a free tool you can use to block robocalls. You tell it who your carrier is, provide an email address and from that point forward, an algorithm blocks robocalls. Note, however, the site warns, "Nomorobo is only available on certain VoIP providers and only in the United States." It isn't yet available for most major cell companies. Nomorobo works by letting your phone ring once. It then identifies the caller and if it's a robocaller, it hangs up.

Since politicians aren't trying to sell you anything, their calls are excluded from the do-not-call rules. That means these guys can call your landline and don't have to stop even if you ask. Best solution? Nomorobo can also block these robocalls. But that's about your only defense.
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