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Robocalls are out, Robotexts are in. What to know
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Robocalls are out, robotexts are in. What to know about the growing phone scam

Emily Barnes, New York State Team

Mon, August 21, 2023 at 3:05 AM EDT·5 min read

Robocalls? They’re so 2010s.

As bothersome automated telemarketing calls decrease across New York, robotexts are the new enemy no. 1 in the phone scam category. But they’re so difficult to track that it’s tough to know how many are pinging New Yorkers’ mobile phones, and who’s sending them.

Robocalls have sharply decreased in NY. Why?

Between 2021 and 2022, there was a 46% decrease in consumer complaints concerning violations of the Do Not Call (DNC) Law in New York, according to the New York State Department of Consumer Protection‘s 2022 Annual Report.

And so far in 2023, the DCP has received 63,987 complaints, state officials said, compared to 131,851 in 2022 and 247,014 in 2021.

National numbers are down too. According to the National Do Not Call Registry, about 56,000 less robocalls were made in June 2023 than in June 2022.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, pushed for federal Do Not Call legislation in 2021 that would allow for prison time for knowingly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and raise fines for falsifying caller identification from $10,000 to $20,000. A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. House this year.

But phone scams aren’t going away — they’re just changing, associate professor at Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology Rajendran Murthy said.

“Definitely the trend seems to be an increase in the texts,” New York University associate professor of computer science and engineering Damon McCoy said. “Most phones these days have a feature to suppress unknown numbers when they call you … Texts are a little bit more persistent.”

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Why are robotexts so hard to manage in NY, across U.S.?

The bottom line is, they’re hard to track and regulate.

Consumers are more careful about picking up phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, Murthy said, but that doesn’t really work the same way with text messages.

And when millions of texts can be sent in the time it takes to make a single phone call, it’s difficult to keep data on something so prolific.

Additionally, the current state and federal protections, such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the National Do Not Call Registry, are not designed to keep up, Murthy said, nor do they work well for tackling international scammers.

“If you’re based, for example, in Mexico or the Philippines, why do you care?” Murthy said.

This issue also makes enforcement difficult for certain robocalls. Additionally, scammers need to actually be selling something to consumers in order for telemarketing laws to apply.

“The only thing that would stop it is if it became unprofitable,” McCoy said.

Have NY, federal efforts helped decrease robocalls and texts?

It’s difficult to know.

In 2022, the DCP investigated over 28,000 consumer complaints of alleged DNC Law violations in New York resulting in $173,500 collected in fines and over $9 million in levied fines referred to the Office of the Attorney General for collection.

But New York doesn’t keep specific data on robotexts, according to the Dept. of State, even though the state added text messages to its definition of telemarketing in 2021.

The FCC also adopted a new set of rules in March, which requires text messages appearing “to come from phone numbers that are unlikely to transmit text messages” to be blocked by mobile wireless providers and requires said providers to maintain a point of contact for customers to report wrongly blocked texts.

“At some point it just turns into this cat and mouse game,” McCoy said. “A lot of these operators are operating overseas so there’s very little legally that you can do against them meaningfully and so you’re just left with trying to figure out where they’re coming from and plug up the hole, so to speak.”

How you can fight robocalls and texts

Typically, scammers are trying to induce panic, McCoy said, so it’s best to slow down and remain rational.

Do not say anything when you pick up a potential robocall, Murthy said, because the moment you respond, it lets the caller know there’s someone linked to the number and the number can then be sold and remarketed in the future.

Additionally, applications like Robokiller and TrueCaller or phone companies can mark incoming calls as scams, Murthy said. Some credit card companies, such as Discover, offer a service where they find your information on “people-search” websites — where consumers’ personal information is compiled, published and sold — and assist you in removing it.

Murthy also said consumers should still register for the DNC registry and it might be helpful to report calls and texts as spam, not just block them.

You can report texting scam attempts to your wireless service provider by forwarding unwanted texts to 7726 or “SPAM.” You can also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission or a report to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here are more ways to combat scams, according to the FCC:

  • Block unwanted calls
  • Don’t respond to texts from unknown numbers
  • Hang up on phone scammers
  • Never share sensitive personal or financial information by text
  • Look out for misspellings or texts that originate with an email address
  • Think twice before clicking any links in a text message

Emily Barnes is the New York State Team Consumer Advocate Reporter for the USA Today Network. Contact Emily at ebarnes@gannett.com or on Twitter @byemilybarnes. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Sick of robotexts? Why the phone scam is so tough to fight in NY

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