WASHINGTON - It's a problem familiar to all of us - your phone rings and it's an automated voice on the line, likely trying to rip you off. Robocalls are surging across the nation with Americans now getting about 2.5 billion per month.
I recently got one threatening, "You'll be taken into custody by the local cops as there are four serious allegations pressed on your name."
At best, the calls are annoying. At worst, people are getting ripped off. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working on new ways to protect people.
"We're empowering phone companies to actually block calls before they even reach a consumer phone," said Patrick Webre, chief of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.
Earlier this month, the FCC changed the rules and now, for the first time, phone companies are allowed to block robocalls that appear fraudulent. There is a still a question of whether phone companies will charge you for that service.
The FCC is also working with the phone industry to authenticate the caller ID you see on your phone to help prevent call "spoofing." Spoofing has become increasingly common and serves as a way scammers to fake the number they are calling you from so it is close to your own number.
"I actually get them myself," Webre said. "I get robocalls from the same three-digit prefix of my own cell phone."
The FCC has been tracking scammers and hitting them with major penalties.
"Just this year alone, we have proposed fines in excess of $200 million against illegal robocallers," said Webre.
He said recent action should have an impact.
"Consumers will see a decline in the number of robocalls they receive," said Webre.
There are a few things you can do yourself to prevent these kind of calls.
1) Utilize the call blocking capabilities on your cell phone
2) Make sure your phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. It won't stop scammers, but will prevent unnecessary calls from legitimate businesses and organizations
3) Check out the cell phone apps that block illegitimate robocalls for you. There is one called Nomorobo that won a competition by the Federal Trade Commission