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Fri, Aug. 19

Column | Robotexts skyrocket as robocall numbers fall

We rely on our phones, we pay good money for our phones, but it has become a hassle to use our phones the way we want to – to answer calls and texts. To make matters even worse, consumers lose $10 billion a year to scams related to illegal robocalls and about $1 billion to scam robotexts. The stories of people whose lives are wrecked by scam calls and texts are gut-wrenching. Simply put: Illegal robocalls and robotexts need to stop.

When it comes to robocalls, there is some good news worth sharing. According to the latest report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, “Ringing in our Fears,” a year after a new federal law aimed at fighting robocalls went into place, the number of phone companies that have adopted the required technology has quadrupled and the number of monthly scam robocalls dropped from 2.1 billion to 1.1 billion.

More specifically, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s analysis of the Federal Communications Commission’s robocall mitigation database of voice providers nationwide shows:

– 1,932 have installed the industry-standard STIR/SHAKEN technology, up from 536 companies last year.

– 3,062 have not installed STIR/SHAKEN but claim to be using their own robocall mitigation system. That compares with 1,710 companies last year. The increase reflects companies that did not report their status last year.

– 1,002 claimed they’re exempt from the requirements, almost all because they’re intermediate providers that don’t originate or complete calls.

Clearly, the phone companies’ actions appear to be helping, but incomplete compliance has not solved the robocall problem. While robocalls may be ringing in our ears less often, scam robotexts have increased from 1 billion to 12 billion a month in the last year and are now ringing in our fears of being scammed as con artists and identity thieves find alternative ways to steal personal information and money. The FCC’s Chairwoman proposed rules to attack robotexts and the agency should not delay taking action.

While strong policies to protect consumers are necessary, as Arizonans we also need to take steps to protect ourselves. Ask your phone provider what free robocall filters they offer to prevent unwanted calls or have the calls routed to your voicemail. Register your phone number to be placed on the federal Do Not Call list at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you do pick up the phone and realize it’s an illegal robocall, just hang up as pressing any button confirms a live person was reached and you are likely to receive more robocalls. And never confirm or provide personal information – not even your name – to any caller you weren’t expecting. If you think the call could be legitimate, call the company back at a number you independently look up. For more tips, check out the PIRG Education Fund’s online guide and then share the information with family and friends.

(Teresa Murray is the Consumer Watchdog for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. The fund conducts research and education on issues in the public interest. Learn more at www.ArizonaPIRGEdFund.org.)

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