Those annoying robocalls that drive people crazy are the targets of a bill headed to a floor vote before the U.S. House. The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act passed unanimously out of committee on Wednesday. It would require the Federal Communications Commission to adopt consumer protection rules, forcing telecom companies to install technology that would identify and block more of the calls. Jim Chilsen, managing communications director for the Citizens Utility Board in Chicago, says many calls come from scammers who manipulate caller ID displays to make it look like their call is coming from a local number.
"It is very mysterious and shadowy," he states. "Technology allows scam artists and pitchmen to make thousands of calls a minute and there's been a lack of significant aggressive action by policymakers and big telecom companies to try and deal with this issue."
The bill, which has bipartisan support, also would make it easier to pursue violators. Americans received an estimated 48 billion robocalls in 2018 an increase of more than 56% over the year before. While spoofers have found ways to get around the Do Not Call Registry, Chilsen says it's still a useful tool to prevent or reduce the number of unsolicited calls. Other options include using an answering machine to screen calls, or using call-blocking services from your phone service provider.
"Fighting robocalls is a lot about trial and error," he states. "You see what works for you.
"And the goal is to try to find free services and free ways to stop the robocalls. And if that fails, then you might want to go to a paid service."
Chilsen says the number one rule of dealing with robocallers is: Do not engage.
"Don't talk, don't press any buttons - even if the call instructs you to press a button to get on the Do Not Call list, do not believe it," he stresses. "Pressing a button will just tell the robocaller that there's a live person at that number."
The Citizens Utility Board has a free guide to help Illinoisans fight robocalls. It can be ordered online at citizensutilityboard.org.