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Robocalls are the worst, and the fight is just beginning

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Robocalls — they're annoying, they're relentless, but they're not unavoidable. Here's what you can do to take a stand against robocallers.

Americans get about 2.5 billion robocalls each month, according to the FCC. Photo: Getty Images

By Elaine McCallig, Metro

In our technologically driven society, robocalls truly are a modern plague.

The Federal Trade Commision has reported a colossal increase in the number of robocall complaints; skyrocketing from 1.7 million complaints in 2014 to 4.5 million in 2017. But those are just the calls that are reported. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that U.S. consumers get nearly 2.5 billion monthly robocalls — automated, prerecorded calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge,” according to FCC estimates.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated that 3.4 billion robocalls were placed in April in the United States, an all-time high.

Last month, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman put forth legislation that will ban robocalling without the receiver's prior consent. The proposed legislation would also require phone companies to offer consumers call-blocking technology free of charge.

New York is one of the most severely impacted regions in the U.S. for robocalls, with the 917 area code ranking the 5th worst in the nation for these irritating calls, according to YouMail.

By employing a crafty tactic that tricks you into thinking the caller is local, telemarketers are now reaching more people than ever — but thankfully, there are effective ways to eradicate robocalls.

According to the FTC, “neighbor spoofing” is the newest way that telemarketers and robocallers are manipulating you into taking their call. There is a vast array of widely available technology that allows robocallers to hijack whatever telephone number they like, and use it to spam unwitting consumers. Another way telemarketers engage in neighbor spoofing is to license and purchase large quantities of telephone numbers that they can then use to make the calls, however this is legal so long as the numbers used redirect back to the company's sales department.

The crazy case of a 'kingpin' robocaller 

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission last month voted to issue a $120 million fine to a Florida man alleged to have made almost 100 million robocalls to trick consumers with “exclusive” vacation deals from well-known travel and hospitality companies.

In 2017, the FCC first alleged that Adrian Abramovich made 96 million robocalls during a three-month period in 2016. In April, he told a Senate panel that he was "not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged." Consumers who answered the calls were transferred to foreign call centers that tried to sell vacation packages, often involving timeshares. The FCC said the calls violated U.S. telecommunications laws.

How can you get rid of robocalls?

The FTC has shared four pieces of advice for Metro readers who are fed up with these pesky calls.

1. Register for the Do Not Call Registry
Signing up to the Do Not Call Registry lets legitimate companies know that you're not interested in receiving any more telemarketing live calls and robocalls. As telemarketers must review their call list every 31 days, you should be free of these calls from legitimate companies in no time.

To sign up, log on to donotcall.gov or call their toll-free number on 888‐382‐1222 from the number you'd like to register.

2. Report unwanted calls
Communicating any unwanted calls to donotcall.gov allows the FTC to track the worst violators and keep an eye out for any patterns that may emerge.

3. Hang up
If you're already registered on the Do Not Call Registry and you get a sales call, simply hang up. As legitimate companies must heed the rules of the registry, any sales calls you receive after 31 days of being registered are more than likely illegal.

4. Download call blocking apps
There are dozens of quality call blocking apps available on Apple's App Store or on Google Play. For landlines, reach out to your telephone provider to discuss how you can enable a call blocking feature to fend against robocalls.

Last year, the most common robocalls infecting telephones across the U.S. included debt reduction services, vacation and timeshare deals, and warranties and protection plans according to the FTC.

“Like so many New Yorkers, everyone in my family has been annoyed by robocalls on a near daily basis," Senator Hoylman said in a statement.

"These robocalls are a scourge on the public-at-large, and my constituents have been vocal about the extent to which these calls infringe on their privacy and interrupt their daily lives."

"Enough is enough."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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