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Susan Bach column: There are ways to prevent receiving 'robo calls'

8:58 PM, Apr. 17, 2013  |  Comments
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There's nothing more annoying than a robo call and the Better Business Bureau has been hearing a lot lately about the latest wave aimed at senior citizens. The call claims to offer a medic alert service for seniors to "keep them safe in their homes." Without it, the call implies, you're not safe.

Most callers tell us that they want the robo calls to end. Unfortunately, the robo caller doesn't care if you have a sleeping baby, an arthritic knee that makes it difficult to get to the phone or that you've just sat down to dinner. So what should you do?

Whatever you do, don't try to remove yourself from their list. Pressing any number - whether it's to speak to a real person or to remove yourself from their call list - only verifies to the computer on the other end of the phone that it has reached a real person. Your phone number is then sold to telemarketers as a "good lead," and instead of getting fewer calls, you'll receive even more.

All robo calls are illegal (unless you've given your prior consent), so we already know that we're dealing with scammers. Signing up for the Do Not Call Registry isn't going to help, because only law-abiding telemarketers scrub their call lists against the Do Not Call registry.

The Federal Trade Commission has a lot of good ideas to stop robo calls. Here are some of my favorites:

Ask your phone carrier what services it offers to block the calls. Some carriers may not be able to, but it won't hurt to ask. Be prepared, however. Some companies may charge you for this service.

For your landline, purchase a device called a "call blocker," which sells for about $50 to $100. Depending on the model, it can block up to 1,500 calls. It's kind of pricey, but may be worth it to finally get some peace and quiet. For your smartphone, there are several apps available for you to purchase.

Get a caller ID service, and screen your calls. If you don't recognize the number, don't pick it up. Any reputable person will leave a message.

Experiment with "Special Information Tones." What are these? Special Information Tones are those three chimes you hear at the beginning of a recorded message to tell you that you've reached a nonworking number. Some consumers have told the FTC that they've added those three chimes to the beginning of their voicemail message, which significantly reduced the number of robo calls. A creative idea, and it's free.

Always file a complaint with the FTC. It may not stop the calls, but it helps the FTC find the violators and prosecute them. You can file a complaint online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222.

- Susan Bach is regional director of the Better Business Bureau for Northeast Wisconsin. She can be reached at sbach@wisconsin.bbb.org or 920-734-4352.

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