(By Massimo Vernicesole_Shutterstock)

By Nicole Batey
Special to the AFRO

Have you ever received a call from someone claiming that you need to renew your car warranty? The problem is you no longer even own that vehicle. You, my friend, have just received a robocall. 

A spam robocall is an unsolicited call to your phone that is  generated electronically and is designed to get you to give up either sensitive personal information about yourself (ie. Social security number), banking or credit card information, or get you to make a purchase. These types of robocalls are not only annoying, but the number of them is getting increasingly worse.  WhistleOut recently released a report, “The Most and Least Bothered States for Robocalling in 2020” and of the top ten worst states, half of them lined the east coast. Maryland was ranked fourth as the worst state.  Arizona, Maine, Virginia, and Delaware were all included in the top five.

Business Insider reports that billions of robocalls target cell phones here in the United States every month and they’re costing American millions of dollars. In 2019, spam robocalls bilked over $285 million dollars out of unsuspecting consumers . There is a lot of money to be made by the spammers with little legal recourse for the consumer and not enough law enforcement on the issue.

Tamara Pennix, a Baltimore resident , received a robocall claiming that her social security number had been cut off. “Here’s the thing, you have to listen to what they’re saying, because the language they use is meant to incite panic. So, I immediately hung up and blocked the number. How are you gonna cut off somebody’s social security number?”

Apparently, using the National Do Not Call Registry, doesn’t seem to work either. The registry, set up by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), was designed to enforce the  Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 and help protect Americans from unwanted telemarketing calls, including spam robocalls. To sign up, you simply register your phone number for free.

When asked if signing up on the “Do Not Call” Registry worked for her, Tammy responded: “The ‘do not call’ list has been unsuccessful. I don’t think that helps anybody, it just doesn’t work.”  

Ce-Ce Abdul-Zahir, a former Maryland resident, who receives about eight robocalls a day, doesn’t think the registry works either. “I registered my number, my husband’s number, and my mother’s number and we all still receive robocalls.”

George Hutcheson, a local business man who operates “Check Plus Transport” didn’t sign up for the registry but instead uses a different approach. “On average I receive at least five robocalls a day. It’s really annoying because of the type of business that I have, I tend to answer every call that I get, so when I get the robocall of course I just hang up. Sometimes I hit the number 2 to unsubscribe to the call and then block the call. But sometimes even when I block the call, it will just try my other phone, which has gotten so many robocalls, I just turned the ringer off,” Hutcheson explained.

“Robocalls have even interrupted my call with a potential customer which is really annoying. I don’t know that blocking calls even work because it seems like they just get a new number when you block them; almost like it’s one company with multiple phone numbers,” he added.

One thing that they all can agree on when they all heard that Maryland is ranked fourth as the worst state for receiving robocalls is that it’s not surprising. “So now I’m very curious about what the state of Maryland is doing to rectify this situation. It’s crazy how Maryland is one of the top states for this problem with robocalls,” said Abdul-Zahir.

Each have their own way of handling robocalls when they do come in. Tammy simply hangs up the phone after realizing it’s a robocall and blocks the number. George, on the other hand, will listen to the recording and then hit whatever necessary button to unsubscribe directly from the call. He’s found that to be pretty effective in stopping some of the robocalls.

Abdul-Zahir, who used to work in the field of cyber security, gave advice for what to do when you receive a spam robocall. “When they call, immediately decline it, block the number and then power down your phone and then turn it back on, so to prevent them from trying steal information from your phone. Also, check with your phone service provider to see what services they may have to deter these robocalls. There may be a fee for those services. My particular phone service, will alert me on my phone to a possible spam risk. I think other providers should do more of the same.”

Despite Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s latest effort in 2019 to halt illegal robocalls, the problem has worsened, as evidenced by our state’s ranking as the 4th worst state in the whole country for robocalls. These spam robocalls are like the cockroaches of the telephone industry, they don’t die, they just multiply.