Over the last several weeks, Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative has noticed an increase in “robo-calls” received by subscribers in our service area. While robo-calls are not a new phenomenon, this latest surge in calls has proven both annoying and frustrating for our telephone customers.
The most widely reported scenario of robo-calls in the Mid-Rivers area at this time involves calls from multiple telephone numbers from California to Pennsylvania to Florida, and even some International numbers, with various names showing up on caller ID including “Caller ID Corp” and others. Upon answering the call, the following message is heard: “Hello, this is an automated fax delivery system. If this is not a fax, press 2.” In most cases, the numbers and names are “spoofed” (deliberately falsified to disguise the true identity of the calling party), which complicates the process of identifying and prosecuting those responsible for placing the unwanted calls.
Mid-Rivers is working with several other carriers in an attempt to identify and stop these calls. In doing so, we have learned that the customers of many other phone companies in South Dakota, Iowa, Virginia and other rural states are experiencing the same issues. The calls seem to come in waves, with a new epidemic of nuisance calls being reported every few weeks. Many of the calls come in the middle of the night and may happen once every hour or two for several hours, which can be very unsettling to the person receiving the calls.
While robo-calls are illegal under Montana law, enforcement is very difficult due to the same reasons stated above. Mid-Rivers has shared the details of this problem with Montana’s Congressional Delegation in Washington, D.C., asking them to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to identify and prosecute the offending callers.
Unfortunately, there is no fail-safe tool for stopping these calls, primarily because it is so easy for scammers to fake the location from which they are calling by using the “spoofing” method. In addition, criminals here or abroad do not care that they are breaking the law-they just care about collecting cash or causing problems without getting caught.
The FTC has offered the following tips to help cut down on the number of unwanted calls:
1. Never respond to a robo-call. The FTC suggests that you do not answer the calls. They also warn not to “press 1” or “press 2”. If you respond by pressing any number it will probably just lead to more robo-calls because the company calling will now know it has reached a working number or a “live” prospect.
2. Don’t give out personal information. If you do receive an unsolicited call from a company you do business with and the person on the other end of the line starts to ask for personal information, tell the caller that you will call them back on their number of record.
3. Report these calls. The FTC encourages you to report your experience to them on-line via the agency’s National Do Not Call Registry or by calling 888-382-1222.
Keep in mind that when a legitimate telemarketer calls you, the caller must promptly provide the following: company name, the purpose of the call, a description of what they are selling and any restrictions to the goods being sold.
What can Mid-Rivers do to help?
While there is no fool-proof way to prevent all of the unwanted calls, the following calling features are available from Mid-Rivers as options that might help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive. You should also report your robo-call incidents to the Mid-Rivers Technical Assistance Center 24 hours a day and we will log your complaints and utilize that information to continue our call traces and troubleshooting efforts with other carriers.
callGUARD (Telemarketing Screening)
callGUARD is a service that intercepts calls to your telephone line. The service plays an announcement stating that the called party does not accept calls from telemarketers, and the party wishes for their name to be added to the telemarketer's "Do Not Call list." Callers who are not telemarketers, but whose call number information is not provided to Mid-Rivers' telephone switching equipment, are asked to "Dial 1 or Stay on the Line" to complete the call.
Calls that will get the callGUARD recording are from callers, including telemarketers, who have chosen a long distance carrier who does not provide any Caller ID information. This usually includes a large majority of telemarketing companies. If a telemarketing company does use a carrier that provides Caller ID information, or the caller sends “spoofed” or fake Caller ID data through to the line, their calls would NOT receive the callGUARD recording. callGUARD works with or without Caller ID services.
Call Screening allows you to create a list of six phone numbers from which you DO NOT wish to receive calls. Calls from phone numbers on your list are sent to an announcement that informs the caller that you are not receiving calls at this time. Dial *60 to use call screening and 3 to turn it on/off, after subscribing to this service.
Special Call Acceptance
Special Call Acceptance (the opposite of Call Screening) allows you to screen in-coming calls by creating a list of six phone numbers from which you are willing to accept calls. Calls from phone numbers NOT contained on your list are sent to an announcement that informs the caller you are not receiving calls at this time. Dial *64 to use special call acceptance and 3 to turn on/off, after subscribing to this service.
Do Not Disturb
The Do Not Disturb calling feature gives you the ability to receive calls only from people to which you have provided a PIN number. This service plays an announcement stating that the party the caller has dialed does not want to be disturbed. Callers who have the called party's PIN can then enter it to complete the call. After you sign up for this service, it can be activated by dialing *54 and deactivated by dialing *55. You can also change your PIN number by dialing *56.
For additional information, contact Mid-Rivers at 1-800-452-2288 or join the National Do Not Call Registry by calling 888-382-1222 or going online to donotcall.gov.