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TMCNet:  Winston-Salem Journal, N.C., Ask SAM column

[March 27, 2013]

Winston-Salem Journal, N.C., Ask SAM column

Mar 27, 2013 (Winston-Salem Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Q: I keep getting robocalls despite being on the "Do Not Call" list. What can I do about it --D.M.

Answer: We are hearing more complaints than ever about this problem -- and often get these calls ourselves.

As we have explained before, companies that are trying to scam the public aren't likely to obey the rules of the National Do Not Call Registry. Many of these groups operate from overseas.

The Federal Trade Commission had a "Robocall Summit" in October, and brought together FTC personnel, engineers, and phone company executives. At that summit, they announced a "Robocall Challenge" to get suggestions from the public on how to best fight robocallers, the results of which will be announced next week.

Many of these robocalls are part of what are known as "last-dollar frauds," meaning they prey on people having financial problems and try to take their last dollars. The callers are trying to get consumers to pay an upfront fee and will help you get lower interest rates. It's illegal to charge an upfront fee for debt-reduction help in North Carolina, according to the N.C. Department of Justice.

"The message we have for consumers generally is, if you're getting a robocall, it's almost certainly illegal," said Will Maxson, a spokesman for the FTC. "Don't press anything." In some cases, he said, the calls are coming from companies that are "lead generators," in the business of getting leads for other companies to pursue and finding out if someone will answer a given a phone number. Even if you answer to tell them to leave you alone, you are still letting them know this is a working phone number. "Even that information is useful, and they'll sell it," Maxson said.

He added that answering the phone and engaging the caller, even to yell at them, "may feel satisfying, but it's not something we recommend." Instead, he suggests filing a complaint about that specific phone number with the Do Not Call center by going to or calling (888) 382-1222. People who are not already on the registry can sign up at that number as well. Complaints filed with the Do Not Call database are used by the FTC and also by state attorney general offices and local law enforcement in litigation.

The number of calls seem to have grown significantly in the last two years, which Maxson said was largely due to how easy it is for unscrupulous companies to make many calls from anywhere in the world for a low cost using VOIP (voice-over-internet protocol) technology.

"It takes a very vigilant enforcement effort to chase these people down," he said.

For people who are getting the robocalls on their cell phones from the same telephone number, here is a solution that SAM ran across online which has proven surprisingly effective. Add the robocaller's number to your contact list. This may seem counterintuitive, but since you can customize the ringtones you get for people on your calling list, you can then set a silent ringtone with no vibration every time someone at that number calls you, so you won't be bothered. SAM has done this with several recurring numbers and within a few days they stopped calling altogether.

___ (c)2013 Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.) Visit Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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