Major phone companies have pledged to do more to fight the billions of robocalls plaguing Americans, the country’s state attorneys general say.
Robocalls are automated calls that use a computerized system to deliver recorded messages to cellphones and landlines. By now, most of us are familiar with the shtick. You get a call from a debt collector. Or maybe it’s from an auto or health insurance provider, a financial lender, the IRS, the FBI, your electric company, Microsoft or a lawyer for a long-lost relative who happens to be a prince in an African country who wants to make you rich.
Americans are getting nearly 5 billion automated calls like this every month.
Parts of the agreement echo steps already taken by regulators and Congress, which is working on its own anti-robocall bills. Unfortunately, there’s no timeline for this latest step by the government and telecom industry to combat a constantly growing problem.
According to the agreement, the Federal Communications Commission expects companies to offer call-blocking tools for free to customers. Many of the major companies already offer this, although some charge for some or all of the services. The companies also will block calls for everyone at the network level, including landlines.
The agreement also asks the carriers to deploy a system that can label Caller ID numbers as real. Scammers often use faked numbers to get people to pick up. The FCC already has asked for such a system, and companies have started rolling it out.
Participating telecom companies include AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and Windstream. Not included are Altice and Cox, cable companies with millions of customers, as well as many small rural telecoms.
In the interim, here are some tips if you do get a robocall.
■ Hang up the phone. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator, and don’t press any other number to get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
■ Consider contacting your phone provider and asking them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. Remember that telemarketers change Caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying to block a number that will change.
■ File a complaint with the FCC at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov. The phone number is (888) 225-5322.
■ The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority hotline is (844) 574-3577. That number is staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.