Ask the Federal Communications Commission’s Patrick Webre when he last received a robocall, and he’ll quickly tell you: yesterday. “I don’t think I’ve received any today,” he says, “but it’s a pretty regular occurrence for me.”
This, of course, only illustrates the extent of America’s problem with automated phone calls. If the chief of the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, which oversees rule making efforts regarding issues including robocalls, is himself a repeated victim, are any of us safe from the annoyance?
The stats back it up: In 2017, there were around 30.7 billion robocalls made. The following year? Almost 48 billion. If you were to do the math, the average American would receive a machine-operated call approximately every other day. But some end up receiving way more. One Florida woman received thousands of calls from Wells Fargo bank, with as many as 23 per day. The state you live in can also have an effect. Living in Georgia; Washington, D.C.; or Louisiana? They’re the three states with area codes that receive the greatest number of robocalls per person, with an average of 55 per day, according to a recent report. “We get more robocalls during the day than we do real phone calls,” one resident said. With the number of calls the average American receives coming fast and furious, the machines seem to be winning.
“There’s no silver bullet here,” Webre says, “so we’re taking a multi-pronged approach.”
In the last two years, the FCC has been going hard at these companies, levying over $240 million in fines to businesses found in breach of existing regulations. “It’s not only our top consumer complaint, but it’s also our top consumer protection priority,” Webre adds.
Fatherly spoke Webre on a particularly good day (any day without robocalls is a good day) and he recommended measures everyone can take to reduce the presence of robocalls in their life.
Do Not Pick Up
When you receive a call from an unknown number, do not answer it. “Our first guidance is, if you don’t recognize the phone number, you should let it go voicemail,” Webre says. The reason for this is simple: Human interaction can be detected by the computer monitoring on the other line, even if you just hang up after a few seconds. This, however, can start a chain reaction in which your number can be marked for increased calling. By screening for unknown numbers, in the system you’re just another no-response.
Check with Your Phone Provider
“Phone companies are providing blocking tools for consumers both on the landline and on the wireless side,” Webre says. Does your provider have these? Best give them a call and ask. In March, Verizon rolled out free services to its wireless customers, simply requiring a signup. AT&T and T-Mobile introduced these services two years ago gratis, while Sprint offers a service for an added monthly fee. To activate, you’ll need to contact your carrier to opt in while also having a device that can shoulder the workload. Still, for many, this should be the first line of defense.
There’s an App for That
Third-party app makers have jumped into the game with both feet, and they’re providing more and more sophisticated tools to prevent unwanted contact. The FCC even has a handy list here. While each of these apps has its own special sauce, generally speaking, each scans a mega-database of all reported robocall numbers. What it does from there varies. One blocks calls en masse. Another allows you to automatically send calls to voicemail so that you may manually report them to the FCC at a later date. One even allows you to record your own pre-recorded gibberish to was these companies’ time in a cathartic action of schadenfreude.
Add Yourself to the “Do Not Call” List
Of course, the preexisting “Do Not Call” list continues to grow, and legitimate telemarketers are required to check it and abide by your decision or face stiff fines. After navigating its multi-step verification process, your information is recorded, which should cut your number of unwanted calls. Furthermore, you can also report additional harassing numbers. But one word of caution for those to whom it seems like a catchall panacea: “Unfortunately it doesn’t work well when you have a scammer trying to reach consumers,” Webre says. “They’re not going to check the ‘Do Not Call’ list.”
Report Every Ring
Finally, report any number guilty of harassment, unwanted phone calls, or texts directly to the FCC. Webre says it’s Pai’s most important priority right now, and he’s bringing down a multi-stranded hammer, which includes working with carriers to eliminate the scourge of robocalls from the public experience: “If your phone doesn’t ring, you’re not frustrated, you’re not getting an unwanted call, and we’re all better off for that.”