The Rise of the Robocall: Do Not Answer That Call!

Aug 11, 2019
NGPF Fellows, Financial Scams, Current Events

Thanks to Renee Hochanadel, who recently attended Summer Institute and is now an NGPF Fellow, for sharing this blog post which was originally shared on her blog.


The phone rings, you look at the number and you go through your mental checklist before deciding to answer or not.

  • Is this one of my contacts?
  • Is it a local number?
  • Have I made an outgoing call to set an appointment and it might be them?

If you have a cell phone, you do this dance an average of six times a day!

According to Forbes, 4.6 billion robo calls were made in May of 2018 causing a declining people’s faith in caller identification and a mistrust of phone calls as a means of communication for many. How many of us cringe when the phone rings? Or look through our missed calls and count how many are numbers we don't recognize?

YouMail reported that by the end of 2018, the number of robo calls jumped to 48 billion! That’s more than a 56% increase over the year 2017! This number is astounding and we deserve to know why this is happening and what we can do to minimize the constant disruptive robo calls.

The simple answer is… behavioral finance. The way we all share information online and interaction with technology impacts us in many ways and this is just one of them. Our students are especially susceptible to sharing their personal details with companies on their phones and laptops because of the countless ads they get daily! But it’s not just them - we’re guilty of this too! I recently went online and did a search for health insurance. I filled out my name and email to get free information. We’ve all done this, and not disclosing my phone number gave me the impression that this was safe. I even registered my cell number on the national “Do Not Call” registry so I shouldn't get any calls. But, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a company that you submit an inquiry with can contact you for up to three months. So if you share one piece of personally identifiable information, all they have to do is search for that information online to find a contact number for you. Before you make a purchase online or establish a business relationship with anyone, remember that they have the right to contact you for weeks and weeks afterward. As tempted as you may be to sign up for that free giveaway - know that the fine print likely means robo calls!

The good news is that there are several ways to protect yourself and your family. The most important one is if you see an unfamiliar number… DO NOT ANSWER. This will only trigger more calls according to CNN. If you’ve answered phishy calls in the past, that is okay - but just make sure to follow the next 4 steps moving forward and eventually the onslaught of calls should decrease.

  1. Register all numbers at the Do Not Call Registry Telemarketers are required to reference the call list every 31 days. After 31 days, if you receive unwanted calls you can report them by doing step 2 below.
  2. Report robo calls to the Federal Trade Commission by dialing 1-877-FTC-HELP or by visiting Robo calls mean there isn't a live person on the phone, only a recorded message. 
  3. You may choose to block the number, especially those calling from a number that mimics your area code. This is a technique called “neighborhood spoofing” used to increase the chances that you’ll answer the phone. (Teachers, check out this FinCap Friday episode about robo calls for a great way to have students discuss the topic!)
  4. Finally, you can install call-blocking software. One of my favorites is RoboKiller. This is an app for android or iphone and it blocks over a million robo calls! It also has pre-recorded messages that can engage in conversation with an actual person who’s calling to scam you. You can even listen to the recorded call after and enjoy the sweet revenge of telemarketers being heckled. Other popular ones include  NomoroboHiya Caller ID and Block,  and Truecaller- these strive to block disreputable telemarketers and robo calls.

At the end of the day, your best defense is a good offense and smart financial behaviors. Don’t give your information out online even if it’s for a tempting sweepstakes or survey. There’s no such thing as harmless sharing of information. Some organizations can call you even if you’re on the “Do Not Call” List, including political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors! Here’s a full list of who may call you Consumer FAQs

If you have debt, you should know that debt collectors are different from robo calls or telemarketers. Know your rights regarding debt collection. If a debt collector is not respecting your rights, you can report it here.

Hopefully I’ve eased any guilt you might’ve felt after not answering the phone a few times. When my phone rang, it wasn't my Aunt Amy from Kansas City calling and if it was she would’ve known to text - not call!


More NGPF Resources for the classroom on related topics:


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