A robocall is an automated telephone call initiated by a computer program that delivers a pre-recorded message once a connection is established. Robocalls use computerized autodialers to deliver pre-recorded messages and are typically associated with political and telemarketing phone campaigns. They are also used for public service and emergency announcements by government agencies and non-profit organizations.
What are Massachusetts Robocall Scams?
Robocall scams are phone scams committed with automated messages and phone calls. Phone scams use telephone services to obtain money and information from residents fraudulently. Phone scammers have adopted robocalls for their nefarious purpose because it affords them the ability to contact multiple targets with minimal resources. Phone scammers are also able to use robocalls to disguise themselves as legitimate entities such as law enforcement and government agencies. This undoubtedly increases the chances of the scam’s success.
Over 100 billion robocalls were made in the United States between 2018 and 2019, with 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019 alone. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts received over 500 million robocalls in 2019, with 48.7 million robocalls coming in December. This amounted to 1.6 million calls per day and 5.9 calls per person.
Scammers use robocalls because of the anonymity it provides them when contacting their targets. They impersonate legitimate establishments and deceive residents into sending money or providing sensitive information. It is possible to detect if an incoming call is a robocall using a reverse phone number lookup application.
Does Massachusetts have Anti-Robocall Laws?
The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations (OCABR) defines robocalls as unsolicited, pre-recorded phone calls made to consumers without their permission. According to Massachusetts General Law Section 159c, robocalls are illegal in Massachusetts. The MGLC 159c also established the creation of Massachusetts Do Not Call List in 2003 to prohibit certain telephone solicitations. Sales companies and telemarketers trying to make unsolicited phone calls are restricted from contacting phone numbers on the list.
The Massachusetts Attorney General joined the other Attorney Generals to sign a bipartisan commitment with the voice service providers to stop illegal and unwanted robocalls. This led to the adoption of the Anti-Robocall Principles, which the voice service providers agreed to implement in their business practices.
The Federal Government signed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act in January of 2020. The law seeks to control the abuse of robocalls by scammers and unscrupulous solicitors. The TRACE Act:
- Requires that phone companies develop processes to identify and block phone calls before the calls get to the receivers and not charge any fees for this service.
- Grants the FCC stronger enforcement ability to deliver increased financial penalties to robocall abusers.
- Empowers the Department of Justice to prosecute scammers after the FCC provides appropriate evidence strenuously.
Are there Special Requirements for Robocalls in Massachusetts?
Robocalls must satisfy predefined requirements to qualify as legal communications in Massachusetts. These requirements include:
A telephone solicitor shall not make or cause to be made an unsolicited sales call to a consumer;
- If the consumer’s name and phone number appear in the no sales solicitation call lists, i.e., Massachusetts Do Not Call List, and National Do Not Call Registry.
- To be received between 8.00 p.m. and 8.00 a.m., at the customer’s location.
- In the form of electronically transmitted facsimiles.
- By use of a recorded message device.
A telephone solicitor shall not intentionally use, or cause to be used, a blocking device or service to circumvent the consumer’s use of a caller identification device or service.
A telephone solicitor must divulge, within the first minute of a sales call and before initiating any payment discussions with a consumer;
- That the purpose of the telephone call is to make a sale or solicit funds.
- The correct name of the company that employs the individual making the call.
- The correct name of the ultimate seller whose goods or services are being offered.
- A complete and accurate description of the goods and services on offer, including retail market values.
- The cost to the consumer of the goods and services, including any applicable tax, shipping, and handling fee.
- Any restrictions, limitations, or conditional attached to the purchase.
- Complete terms of any applicable refund, return, cancellation, exchange, or repurchase policies.
- Any material aspect of an investment opportunity being offered. This includes the price of the investment, the location, and the fact that the investor may lose some or all of their original investment.
How Do I Stop Robocalls?
The majority of robocalls are from legitimate callers and not scam callers, but this does not take away how annoyingly intrusive robocalls have become. Scammers have co-opted robocalls for the many advantages it offers them when attempting to steal sensitive information and funds from unsuspecting residents. Therefore, Massachusetts residents should take measures to protect themselves from this menace. You can take the following actions to avoid illegal robocalls:
- Add your phone number to both the no sales solicitation call lists – Massachusetts Do Not Call List, and the National Do Not Call Registry. The FTC manages the National list, and First Data administers the Massachusetts list on behalf of the OCABR. Phone numbers on these lists are restricted from receiving most kinds of unwanted telephone solicitations, and legitimate sales companies adhere to this. If you still receive robocalls after this, you can treat them as potential scam calls. Register on the National Do Not Call Registry online or call 1 (888) 382-1222 from the phone number you wish to register. Register your phone number on Massachusetts Do Not Call List online or call (866) 339-1475. You can also fill out a registration form and mail it to Massachusetts Do Not Call List, c/o First Data, 855 Pacific Street, 4th Floor, FDGS, Omaha, NE 68106.
- Do not accept calls from incoming numbers you do not recognize. A surefire way to avoid illegal robocalls is to decline calls from unknown phone numbers and send them straight to voicemail. You can respond to the callers that left valid messages and treat those who did not leave messages as scams.
- File complaints on illegal robocalls with the authorities. Report unwanted telephone solicitations to the FTC on 1 (888) 382-1222 or use the online complaint assistant. Report spoofed robocalls and spam calls to the FCC consumer complaint center. Residents can also file complaints about illegal calls with their local law enforcement agency.
- There are several call-blocking and call-filtering applications that block unwanted phone calls. Android and iOS smartphones have these tools included as features. Contact your phone service provider and request free call-blocking services. Robocall numbers are easily changed, so it is not worth paying for such services. You can also find third-party applications for free that block unwanted and illegal phone calls. The FTC also issues guidelines on blocking unwanted callers.