Dennis Horton: Why are there more unwanted phone calls than ever?

I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t have a complaint about unwanted phone calls. And I’d quickly run out of fingers and toes counting the number of people who complain to our office that the Do Not Call Registry does not work.

First, the problem isn’t that the registry doesn’t work. It does. It stops unwanted calls from legitimate businesses who abide by the law. It’s the shady businesses, scammers, and other crooks who ignore the law and call even though they know they’re breaking the law.

The second problem is technology and “robocalls” — computerized autodialing — allows billions of illegal calls to be made each month. What’s legal and what’s not? That answer is pretty simple. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. If the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal period.

According to the YouMail monthly Robo Call Index, nationwide there were an estimated 2.8 billion robocalls made during the month of February. Closer to home in the 815-area code, in February the estimate is 7.1 million robocalls. All though you may feel they all came to you, that’s roughly 4.6 calls per person.

Those kinds of numbers generate hundreds of calls from consumers to the BBB office each year; and millions of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. The bad news is the numbers are only expected to grow. The reason for that is the technology. Robocalls are steadily increasing because of cheap access to internet calling services and autodialing, and because it’s getting easier for spammers to hide their real identity and location.

You may have noticed you’re now getting calls where the area code and first three digits of the number calling matches yours. That’s called “neighbor” spoofing. Spammers and scammers know — until we catch on — there is a good chance you’ll answer a call that looks local or from someone you may know.

So, when you get an illegal robocall, here’s what to do. Hang up the phone. Don’t press one to speak to a live operator. And don’t press any other number to get off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

Also, the regulatory agencies are very serious about putting a stop to robocalls. Last year the FCC proposed a $120 million fine against a Florida robocaller. And last week the FTC went to court against a home security installation company and their telemarketing companies for calling millions of consumers whose numbers were on the DNC registry. The telemarketing companies face penalties in excess of $6 million.

For speedy action take matters into your own hands. On your mobile phone; download a call-blocking app. Some of these are free, but others may charge a monthly fee. Also, because there are privacy concerns make sure you check the app’s privacy policy because some may access your contacts. Your cell phone itself may have blocking technology and your provider may also have an app. If you still have a landline; also contact your service provider for information on the blocking services they provide. You can also install a call-blocking device or get an independent call blocking service.

Whether you are a wireless or landline user — regardless of the call-blocking technology you choose; before you buy check them out at bbb.org or call our office at 815-963-2222.

Also, report unwanted calls at ftc.gov/complaint, and scam calls to BBB Scam Tracker.

Dennis Horton is the director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.