Joan Koczor Maricopa
Joan Koczor

Robocalls, those prerecorded, unsolicited annoyances that are becoming all-too-frequent in many households, have reached epic proportions. They are the largest source of consumer complaints to the FTC.

In 2018, a record 48 billion robocalls were placed to phones in the United States, according to YouMail, a company that blocks and tracks robocalls. That is 57 percent more robocalls than there were in 2017.

Legal or Not

Political parties and candidates, as well as charities, are legally allowed to autodial you with a prerecorded message to your home landline. The same is true of callers whose messages are purely informational: the pharmacy telling you that your prescription is ready, your child’s school to say there’s a weather delay, your doctor’s office to confirm an appointment.

Autodialed telemarketing calls from legitimate outfits to your home landline are also legally permitted, provided the person on the other end is a human being; for prerecorded messages, your written consent is required.

Payment reminder calls to your landline — for example, when your credit card company robocalls you to alert you that your payment is due — are generally legal without prior consent. Robocalls from debt collection agencies, which are also payment reminders, are legal to landlines and require no previous consent to be called. Moreover, these calls are not covered by the Do Not Call Registry.

Almost all autodialed or prerecorded calls made to your cell phone – charities, political parties to name a few – are illegal unless you have given permission to be contacted this way or a call is for an emergency. If you get these calls to your cell phone and don’t remember giving permission, it’s possible that you checked a terms-of-service box or provided a phone number during a sign-up process. Doing either can constitute consent to be called, per FCC regulations.

What can you do?

Many companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon, have services that alert you an incoming robocall may be from a scammer or spammer.

While the carriers’ systems can notify customers of calls that may be problematic, they are far from perfect. Scammers can still spoof legitimate numbers.

Instead of simply being alerted to incoming robocalls, a call-blocking app can intercept robocalls before they reach you. Though some apps don’t access your contact lists, some of the free apps do. If you’re planning to download a robocall-blocking app, read the app’s privacy policy first.

One option available from some phone companies is to automatically reject anonymous calls. If you turn this feature on, all anonymous calls are instantly rejected, preventing the caller from even leaving a message.

Joan Koczor is a senior advocate and member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.