What Is a Robocall and How Do I Stop Them?

What Is a Robocall and How Do I Stop Them?
Table Of Contents

Receiving unsolicited calls from unknown callers goes back several decades, believe it or not. It was something that disturbed countless family dinners back when landlines were the primary form of telecommunication. Even though cell phones have all but replaced landlines these days, unsolicited calls are arguably worse than ever before, thanks to robocalls. 

Robocalls are telephone calls made using an autodialer to deliver a prerecorded message to as many phone numbers as possible. Plenty of scammers use these automated calls to launch their cons on unsuspecting people. It’s the bait for their scam and answering could land you on their hook.

The good news is that there are several ways that you can fight back against unwanted robocalls. 

What Is There to Know About Robocalls?

Robocalls involve using an autodialer system to send out pre-recorded messages. Instead of having to spend hours dialing various numbers and completing the call, an autodialer does all the work and dramatically speeds up the process — making it, of course, much more annoying for us common folk. The result is a lot of telephone numbers receiving the same message in a short amount of time. 

Keep in mind that not all robocalls are illegal. Robocalls are used by anyone who wants to contact a large amount of people in a short amount of time. Legitimate businesses use robocalls to discuss upcoming sales or promotions. Telemarketers may use robocalls as a means to cold-call a lot of people all at once and jack up their leads. Political campaigns may use robocalls to garner support for a candidate or issue. 

While these calls might be generally harmless, there are many people who use robocalls for less-than-ideal purposes. Scam calls are a major threat to your personal data, and robocalls mean that you’re likely to encounter plenty of these attempts over the years, unfortunately. 

One particularly dirty trick deployed by robocalls is “spoofing.” When spoofing, the contact information that appears on your caller ID is changed to disguise the caller’s identity. We’re not talking about something harmless like making the *67 calls we’re all well too aware of, the information is manipulated so that you answer, and the scam gets one step closer to success.

As you can probably imagine, falsifying caller ID information is considered illegal under various Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. These two institutions work tirelessly to regulate robocalls as much as possible, though doing so is basically a never-ending uphill battle. The FTC implemented the Telemarketing Sales Rule, which prohibits certain types of robocalls, while the FCC has enacted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which restricts auto-dialed and pre-recorded phone calls. Without these efforts, there’s really no telling how bad the situation would be. 

What Is the Impact of Robocalls?

Robocalls can be easy to dismiss as a basic annoyance along the same lines as junk emails. If you don’t want a ringing phone, then hang up the call and be done with it, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and robocalls can have a far-reaching impact on American consumers. 

Disruptions Caused by Robocalls

The most obvious impact of robocalls is that they can simply be annoying. The National Consumer Law Center estimates that more than 50 billion robocalls are made each year, with roughly 33 million being made each day… that’s a lot of ringing phones and voicemails being left constantly. 

Depending on how often robocalls target your number, it can take this from an annoyance into harassment and have you wanting to throw your phone into a dumpster far, far away. 

Fraudulent Activities and Scams

A constantly ringing phone is certainly enough to want robocalls to disappear forever, but the real threat of a robocall is the scams behind the calls. 

Thanks to spoofing, some robocalls are disguised as legitimate institutions such as banks, credit card companies, or even government agencies like the IRS. These disguises are used by scammers as a way to trick people into revealing sensitive information or making seemingly authentic payments. 

As a rule of thumb, just avoid giving sensitive information over the phone as much as you can possibly manage.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the worst outcomes of a scam call. This happens when a scammer is able to gather enough personal information about someone to impersonate them and commit fraud. 

In most cases, this will involve them opening credit cards in the victim’s name, making unauthorized purchases, or even committing crimes using the victim’s identity. It can take years and a lot of resources to undo the damage of identity theft.

The Economic Impact of Robocalls

The threat of robocalls is often dismissed and not taken seriously. Most people believe they would never fall victim to scams launched via robocalls, so the worst-case scenario is a ringing phone. 

The truth is that these scams are much more successful than you might think. According to a National Consumer Law Center report, Americans lost more than $29 billion to fraud in 2022 alone, more than Iceland's entire GDP that year. 

Robocalls wouldn’t be so common if they weren’t successful, and these numbers definitely suggest that they’re extremely lucrative. Dismiss them at your own peril. 

How To Identify Robocalls

The best way to avoid becoming the victim of a robocall scam is to spot them when they come your way. Not all robocalls are illegal or the beginnings of a scam, and knowing the difference can surely save you a lot of time (and potentially money). 

Presence of a Prerecorded Voice Message

One of the staples of a robocall is the pre-recorded voice message. If you answer your phone only to hear a recorded message rather than a live person on the other end, you’re likely dealing with a robocall. 

Normally, these calls will start with a pause and are followed by the recorded message. The content of the message can often help you identify if it’s a scam or not. If it involves information about an upcoming appointment or sales opportunity, then it's probably made by a legitimate business. But if the message asks for you to input personal information of any kind, then it’s likely a scam. Avoid at all costs. 

Calls from Unknown Numbers or Spoofed Caller IDs

Scammers are aware that most people won’t answer phone calls made from unknown numbers. Earlier, we talked about caller ID spoofing, a tell-tale sign that’s something up. 

If the scammer is using a local number or masquerading as a trusted organization, then you’re much more likely to answer the call and fall for the scam. Remember to never give out any personal information over the phone until you’re 100 percent certain of the identity of the person on the other end. Caller ID information can be manipulated, so don’t rely on it alone to keep you safe.

Urgent or Threatening Voicemails

One of the main tactics used by scammers is to create a sense of urgency. They might leave a voicemail that claims you’ve won a prize and only have an hour to claim it, so you must enter your banking information now or risk losing it. Or maybe your Social Security number has been hacked, and you need to verify your identity IMMEDIATELY by entering it. Yeah… red flag.

The idea is to get you to react before you think and provide sensitive information that can then be used against you. There are certainly times when urgent voicemails are legitimate, but it’s always a good idea to maintain your composure and a healthy sense of skepticism before giving out any personal information.

Sales Pitches or Requests for Personal Information

It’s a clear red flag when any call involves a sales pitch or requests for your personal/financial information. Legitimate businesses have to obtain your written consent before making a sales call, so be aware of what you’re opting into when making a purchase. Even if you did opt into receiving promotional material from them, they’ll never ask you to provide any sensitive information over the phone, 

Unusual Call Patterns

Robocalls can be extremely random. Sometimes, you might get them in the middle of the night, and other times, you might receive several of them in a row. No legitimate business will make calls on nights and weekends or repeatedly dial your number multiple times in a row. 

Doing so would surely turn many people toward their competition and would generally be a terrible business strategy, so use good judgment before answering.

How To Stop Robocalls

Sadly, being able to identify robocalls is just half of the battle. The other half is understanding your options for how to stop them. 

Here are a few ways that you can reduce the amount of robocalls that you’re receiving and better shield yourself from scams: 

Using Call-Blocking Features

Blocking robocalls is one of the first lines of defense. Whether you have an Apple, an Android, or literally any phone under the sun, you certainly have call-blocking features built-in that allow you to block specific numbers. If you keep receiving obvious robocalls from the same number, then simply block it, and you’re set.

Leveraging Phone Company Services

If there’s anyone that’s as fed up with robocalls as you are, then it’s the phone companies. They constantly receive criticism from the public and the government to do more about these nuisances. 

Many service providers, including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, offer services that can identify and block potential spam calls. Check with your provider to see what your options are — and whether or not they’ll cost you extra on your monthly bill. 

Registering With the National Do Not Call Registry

The FTC manages the National Do Not Call Registry, which can help you lessen the telemarketing calls made to your mobile phone. The “do not call list” isn’t going to stop all unwanted calls, but it can at least cut down on the amount of telemarketing calls that you’ll receive in the future. And in our minds, even a little help with this goes a long way.

Reporting Illegal Calls and Scams

If you’re ever positive you’re dealing with a scam call, don’t be afraid to report it to the FTC. The FTC can only do so much on its own to stop robocalling and scams, but by using reported data offered by users, it can track trends and take action against scammers violating the law.

While you’re at it, be sure to report the call to the FCC as well. They’re responsible for regulating interstate and international communications. The more information both of these agencies have, the more likely that we can identify and punish the people behind robocalls and scams. 

Be Vigilant with Unknown Calls

Most people don’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers. If you haven’t adopted this policy, then you should immediately. If you receive a phone call and don’t know who it is from, then simply let it go to voicemail. You can listen to the message here and can use it to identify the caller. 

Answering the phone from an unknown number can be more risky than you might think. For starters, it will indicate to scammers that your number is active. The first step in their scam is to know whether or not a number is being used by someone. Once that’s been confirmed, it’s just a question of figuring out how to get that person to answer, which is where spoofing comes in.

If you ever answer a call from an unknown number and it is a robocall, don’t panic. Ignore the message and hang up without pressing any buttons or giving out any personal information. You might see a dramatic increase in calls in the future, but at least you won’t be the victim of a scam!

Protect Yourself Against Scams for Good

Robocalls are much more than a basic annoyance that makes us want to ban technology forever. Every year, millions of people are scammed using robocalls and other scams. While the government and phone service providers are doing what they can to fight back, the ultimate responsibility will fall on you to keep your information protected… and one of the easiest ways to do that is by using Burner. 

Burner is a pretty simple concept that can keep your information protected. It works by choosing a second phone number that you can use in place of your regular number. Any calls or text messages that go to this number are rerouted through Burner and transferred to your cell. 

Should this number ever end up on robocall lists, then you can simply “burn it” and get a new one. There’s no personal information tied to your Burner number, so robocallers can call it as many times as they like and never get anything useful, which we deem a big win. 

If you’re looking for a way to keep yourself safe, download Burner today to start your free trial. You can get a feel for how it works and use it to keep your personal information safe from robocalls. 


What is Spoofing | FCC

What to do with Robocalls | FTC

Scam Robocalls Statistics for 2022 | NCLC

Call Blocking Tools | FCC

Robocalls Finally Have the U.S. Government's Attention | TIME

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