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Know Your Rights: Robocalls

Federal laws generally prohibit companies from making robocalls to you without your written consent, so read on to learn more about the law and for tips to help limit future calls.

Robocalls use technology with either the ability to automatically dial phone numbers or to play messages using an artificial or pre-recorded voice.

The use of robocall technology has escalated drastically over the last 10 years due to the availability and use of internet-based telephone services, or voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP), such as Vonage. VoIP phone services are popular with consumers and telemarketers alike, due to their low costs and unlimited calling plans. Telemarketers using VoIP services can send hundreds of thousands of robocalls per day, limited only by the quality and speed of their internet connection.

Many VoIP providers also allow their customers to choose the telephone number to display on the recipient’s caller ID.  This option allows scammers to fake, or “spoof,” numbers to mask the true originating number and to change the number as frequently as desired to frustrate consumers’ efforts to block the number.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) addresses unwanted telephone solicitations, including restrictions on the delivery of “robocalls.” Amendments to the TCPA, which became effective November 2015, tightened restrictions on robocalls by requiring callers to obtain certain permissions prior to calling.

Here is what you need to know about your TCPA rights:

  • Calls and text messages have the same protections.
  • All non-emergency robocalls, both telemarketing and informational, require a consumer’s permission to be made to a wireless phone. These calls can include political, polling, and other non-telemarketing robocalls.
  • Telemarketing (solicitation-to-purchase) robocalls to wireless and landline home phones require prior written consent from the recipient.
  • Consumers can revoke their permission to be called or texted in any reasonable way. For example, a caller cannot require you to fill out a form and mail it in as the only way to revoke consent.
  • Being an existing customer of a business does not constitute permission to be robocalled or texted.
  • Callers are allowed to call a wrong number only once before updating their calling list.  This most commonly comes up when consumers consent to be called or texted but then change phone numbers, leaving their prior number to be reassigned to someone else.  Telemarketers and other callers have resources available to them to help them know ahead of time if a number’s “owner” has changed.

Beware that many robocalls do not follow the TCPA or other telemarketing regulations.
Whether it’s an automated call asking if you can hear, or a credit consolidation offer from “bank card services,” don’t take the bait. Hang up on any illegal or suspicious robocalls. Do not be tempted to follow a prompt to “press 1” to be removed from the calling list or to reach a live operator. Following the prompt by pressing a button only confirms for the sender that the call reached a live person. Unfortunately, that will only result in more unwanted calls to you.

To help reduce unwanted calls, follow these tips:

  • Check out call-blocking services. Some mobile apps and cloud-based services combine data from reports of robocalls to create a “blacklist” of numbers that can be blocked from calling you.
  • Visit www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 to register your landline or cellular number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If your number is on the registry and a company is still calling, there is a good chance it is a scam.
  • Don’t respond to suspicious calls in any way. Responding to a call could cause you to receive even more calls.

If you suspect a scam, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioProtects.org.

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