Beware of Robocalls From Imposters and Scammers During the Pandemic
Tue, April 20, 2021

Beware of Robocalls From Imposters and Scammers During the Pandemic


Have you heard a recorded message instead of a live person when answering your phone? That’s a robocall, said the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an independent agency of the US government.

Those calls may be illegal or scams if you receive too many robocalls that try to sell you something. However, certain types of robocalls are allowed, at least under the FTC such as political calls about candidates running for office or charities requesting donations. 

You still need to be aware of scammers who pose as a government agency (or any organization) like the Social Security Administration by faking the name and number to make the call appear to originate from a legitimate source.

Report Finds that Americans Receive Robocalls

Provision Living, which provides assisted living, memory care, and senior care services across the Midwest, surveyed 4,048 people from March 10-14 and April 28-30, 2020. Provision Living found that 65% of respondents received a robocall at least once per day while 91% said they are becoming more ubiquitous. 87% experienced a spike in robocalls within the last year and 91% believed that robocalls will continue to surge.

77% reported being harassed by the same caller multiple times while 72% received calls from the same person using different numbers. 27% received a robocall at 9 pm while 15% received one at 10 pm. Other times reported by the respondents were 8 pm (22%), 7 pm (24%), 11 pm (5%), and 12 am and beyond (7%). 

The most common types of robocalls were Social Security Administration imposter (39%), IRS imposter (38%), travel-related (36%), and debt collection (33%). 29% of respondents also received robocalls from a politician/candidate imposter, as well as student loans (29%) and health care (21%). Other types of robocalls were from a FBI/law enforcement imposter (19%), money-making opportunity (18%), charity/donation (17%), computer/tech support (14%), real estate (9%), home improvement/maintenance (7%), and religious (3%).

Topics of COVID-19 robocalls were treatments (22%), financial relief (18%), free testing (18%), warned of virus exposure (18%), and donation requests (9%). Other topics included low-price health insurance (9%) and others (6%). Further, 57% of respondents were fearful of answering a call from an unrecognizable number, 46% missed an important call as they thought it was a robocall, and 23% asked their cell phone carrier to take action to prevent robocalls.

Likewise, 80% of respondents believed that cell phone carriers are not doing enough to prevent robocalls while 71% searched an unknown number on Google before calling back. When screening phone calls, 80% won’t answer an unrecognized number if they are not expecting a call, 70% won’t answer a call from an “unknown” number, and 51% blocked calls from unrecognizable phone numbers.

30% used an app to block robocalls and when asked if the app was offered through their cell phone provider, 54% said yes while 46% said no. 47% paid for the app compared to those (53%) who did not pay for the app. When asked if the app has prevented robocalls, 62% said no and 38% answered yes.



Robocalls Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Text messages about COVID-19-related scams are being circulated across the US to fool Americans, reported Harmeet Kaur and Alicia Lee of News 4 Jax, an independent television station licensed to Jacksonville, Florida. Bogus messages and calls offer vulnerable Americans testing kits, treatments, or financial relief; however, these offers do not come from government agencies.

Orange Park resident James Ernstes said that he and his wife received a scam call. “They were telling me that we had ordered something or done something and they were going to call or take $350 out of our checking account,” he narrated. Fortunately, these fake calls and texts have already been reported to the FTC and other government agencies.

One robocall claiming to be from the Social Security Administration was reported by the FTC, informing the receiver that the SSA would suspend their socials within 24 hours due to suspicious and fraudulent activity detected in their social. Another robocall reported by the FTC instructed the recipient to press 1 if they are a small business owner to ensure that their Google listing is displayed correctly. 

Other robocalls detected by the FTC, Federal Communications Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration included free virus testing kits including a diabetic monitor for people with diabetes, free at-home tests for Medicare recipients, fake cures or measures that ask for payment over the phone, and offers of HVAC duct cleaning to protect one’s home from COVID-19.

Taking Action to Prevent Robocalls

The United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), a non-profit organization that represents US-based telecommunication-related corporations, launched an effort to stop countless illegitimate robocalls or at least make the numbers drop significantly, explained Roxanne Bland of business news Forbes. USTelecom’s members include large and small communications providers like AT&T, Verizon, Ironton Telephone, and Kalida Telephone Company. 

The non-profit organization and its members formed the Industry Traceback Group (ITG), which included communications companies that offers wired, wireless, VoIP, and cable services. ITG operates under section 222 (d)(2) of the Communications Act, which allows “carriers to disclose and/or permit access to customer propriety network information if suspected fraud, abuse or unlawful use of services exists.”

The ITG serves as a platform for providers to “trace and identify the source of illegal robocalls.” The process starts with terminating a service provider that has information about dubious phone traffic. The call is traced back through communication provider networks until it reaches a non-responsive communications provider or the caller themselves. The information from the traceback process is shared with federal and state law enforcement agencies.



Is There Any Way for Me to Avoid Receiving Robocalls?

As much as possible, avoid responding to calls or messages from unknown or suspicious numbers. If you get an illegal robocall, don’t press any numbers and hang up. The call might say that you will be referred to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but pressing any number might cause you to receive more robocalls.

Report the call to the FTC or your local agency to help them track the scammer. If you plan to donate to a charity, call or look at its website to check if it’s legitimate and not from a scammer posing as a charity’s representative. Ignore any calls that offer products to treat or prevent COVID-19. Presently, no product has been proven to mitigate or cure COVID-19.

Avoid disclosing personal information to scammers or paying them, as these are signs that the call is a scam. Verify any requests or donations from charities and government agencies. If possible, talk to network providers to see if they can use a tool to block robocalls.