PhotoBy now, just about every consumer on the planet is aware of the nuisance of robocalls. They’re even aware that most of these calls are connected to some kind of scam. But new research from AARP shows that not many consumers have taken steps to protect themselves from these attempts at fraud.

U.S. consumers received an estimated 48 billion robocalls in 2018, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says a significant portion came from scam operations peddling worthless health insurance policies or claiming the call’s recipient was about to be arrested. The FTC reports telephone-delivered scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year.

Some robocalls were legitimate. Your doctor may have placed a robocall to remind you of an appointment, or the airline might be calling to tell you a flight has been cancelled. Any other type of robocall should be viewed with skepticism.

‘Spoofing’ technology

The AARP survey showed that a large majority of consumers use Caller ID to decide whether or not to answer a call. The research shows consumers are more likely to answer a call that appears to come from their area code or exchange.

Scammers know this and employ “spoofing” technology to make it appear like the call is coming from a nearby location, even if the call was placed halfway around the world.

"Be wary when you pick up the phone. A number that looks familiar or local may be neither familiar nor local," said Kathy Stokes, director of AARP’s fraud prevention programs. "Con artists have become increasingly sophisticated and devious, and once they connect with you and get you talking it's far too easy to fall prey to their schemes."

So the key to avoiding these scams is to not engage with a robocaller. Once you hear the recorded voice and determine it’s not your doctor or airline calling, just hang up. Don’t wait on the line to hear the entire pitch.

Robocall recipients who remain on the line are eventually connected with a human, and that’s where the trouble begins. So just hang up.

Let it go to voicemail

Better yet, don’t answer the call at all. Most smartphones have a feature allowing you to reject a call. If it’s an unfamiliar number, just reject it. If it’s a legitimate call, the caller will leave a voicemail message.

Use your phone’s contacts list to add every number you think might ever have a reason to call, from your cousin to your doctor’s office. When you get calls from them, it won’t show up as a number, but as the contact’s name.

In the near future, scammers may have a more difficult time spoofing local numbers. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is putting pressure on telecom providers to find a way to block illegal Caller ID spoofing by the end of this year.

Pai recently issued a declaratory ruling that, if adopted, would allow phone companies to block unwanted robo- and spoofing calls to their customers automatically.

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