Can You Protect Your Home (and Your Sanity) From Robocalls?

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By Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK -- Americans don't like so-called "robocalls" -- telemarketing calls from companies looking to pitch products and services, some of them with fraudulent intentions.

According to Consumer Reports, U.S. consumers have placed 217 million numbers do-not-call requests since the agency began tracking them, while telemarketing fraud costs Americans $350 million annually.

Still, companies manage to slip through the cracks and make robocalls, anyway. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC receives between 250,000 and 300,000 consumer complaints a month against telemarketers, 60 percent of them directly linked to robocalls.

Shel Horowitz, a green business profitability expert, is one of those consumers who have a big problem with robocallers. "I especially get annoyed to see my own name and phone showing up as the call originator on my own caller ID, meaning they are probably poisoning the world against me by masquerading as me to others too," he says.

Other consumers say it's an uphill battle to block all robocallers, but there are some effective ways to keep annoying telemarketers at arm's length. "There really is no pro-active way to protect your home from robocalls," says Larry Peck, a consumer who is constantly battling robocallers. "Most companies who do them ignore the Do-Not-Call list anyway, and I'll call them back and get them to take me off their list."

"If they don't, I block them via Comcast's call blocking feature," he added. "I can also block their number on my actual landline phone too. As far as my cell phone, Verizon lets me block up to five numbers on a rotating basis. But the problem is, you're always dealing with robocalls on a reactive basis."

Job one for consumers looking to block robocallers is to sign up for the federal Do-Not-Call List which will prevent legitimate telemarketers from calling you, says Steven J.J. Weisman, an attorney and consumer fraud specialist based in Amherst, Mass. "Even if you are on the Do-Not-Call List, the law still permits you to receive robocalls from charities, politicians and polltakers," Weisman says. "However, whenever you receive any call, particularly a robocall, you have no way of knowing who is really calling you. So the best thing to do is to not bother to pick up the phone if you don't recognize the number - let legitimate callers leave a message and return their calls."

Consumers can download some handy mobile apps that can steer them clear of aggressive telemarketers, advises Keeon Rudder, a motivational speaker and global business consultant. "The easiest way to avoid spam calls is to download an app to hang up on such incoming calls," Rudder says. "I've found Mr. Number to be quite effective in thwarting unwanted callers."

Clair Jones, a home automation, Internet, and phone service expert with, says the best thing you can do if you receive a robocall is to hang up immediately. "If you speak or push any buttons on your phone you are inadvertently indicating interest and signaling that you are a good target for future calls," Jones says. "To stop these annoying calls entirely, you can sign up for free services like Nomorobo, which automatically block unwanted robocalls while still allowing you to receive the ones that originate from trusted sources, like pharmacy refill reminders or Amber Alerts."

It takes extra effort, and a little help from Uncle Sam, your telecom provider and some good mobile apps, but you can go on the offensive against rude, unwanted telemarketers. Otherwise, those robocallers will keep pouring it on, day and night.
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