By Crystal Baldwin
A National Consumer Protection Week feature. “National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and avoid frauds and scams” (FTC).
Ten years ago, the influx of scam calls through automation began. In two days, the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), which traditionally logged around twenty scam reports per month, received hundreds of scam reports over two days. By the end of 2012, CAP averaged 145 scam reports per month. Of the first robocalls Vermonters reported were the card services scam, which claimed interest rates could be lowered on their bank credit cards. Next came claims of free gift cards from a specific retailer, who was offering nothing of the sort. What soon followed was a rush of new scams; claims that free life alert devices were available, the infamous IRS scam (responsible for 4,261 reports in 2016), which morphed into the SSN phishing scam, and countless others. Reports of scams have not dropped below the 5,000 mark since before 2015 in large part due to robocalls. After nearly a decade, it’s clear these calls are not going away on their own.
While scam nature varies, the one thing these scams have in common is the criminal use of expanded phone technology. In short, scammers have learned how to manipulate our phone systems to make millions of unscrupulous calls per minute. As long as they continue to make money, they will continue to call with enticing offers and troubling spiels.
Telltale signs of robocall scams:
- A computer/automated/robot voice
- Pressure to act immediately
- A request for something: your information/your money
To the demise of the robocall scam industry, there are steps you can take as a consumer advocate to avoid these calls. By being aware and not engaging with these calls and making these scams less successful, you are doing your part to stop robocall scams. Learn more about stopping scams by opening the Blocking Unwanted Calls tab on CAP’s website. You can also listen to a previously recorded Vermont Edition about stopping and blocking robocalls.
Here’s what you can do when you receive an unknown call:
- Pause: Take time to reflect – if a call is unexpected, disengage.
- Take steps to verify by making note of the contact and doing research, including checking a trusted source.
- Discuss scams with friends and loved ones regularly. Storytelling induces learning. The simple act of communicating with others about scams can help prevent others from becoming victims.
- Keep on reporting them. Our office has been part of a bipartisan taskforce of attorneys general and federal law enforcement to relieve consumers of unwanted calls. Your robocall reports are used to aid this taskforce in tracking down criminal syndicates.
With the help of federal authorities and a large U.S. voice provider, our office has been able to track down US intermediaries and hold them accountable for sending scam calls to your phone.
You can help stop robocalls by reporting them to the Consumer Assistance Program: CAP’s online scam reporting form.