Marketing Mobile technology

The Return of Spam Calls

Have you been getting more spam calls lately?

Of course you are. Everyone is in spite of the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. So what’s going on?

DNC Can’t Keep Up With Phone Technology

Actually, the DNC list worked pretty well back in the day. It came from early anti-spam legislation and was set up in 2003 to target telemarketers with bad phone manners. If they were legitimate players, they could be fined so they had an incentive to obey the law. (Spammers are notorious for making quick exits from the public eye.)

Back then, the Internet was still young and innocent. You couldn’t abuse it to place a ton of spam calls all at once.

Crooks, of course, could care less and frequently changed their phone numbers to stay ahead of DNC blocks. Later, prepaid, disposable mobile phones made this even easier.

And then VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) tech was introduced as a call center management tool. VoIP services are excellent for legitimate use and provide valuable marketing data. But like any business tool, it can also be used by a single crook to place a lot of hard-to-trace and harder-to-stop calls from ever-changing phone numbers.

Some Spam Comes From Outside the US

I bet you’re shocked to read this. Like spam email, lots of spam calls come from outside the US where DNC isn’t the law and can’t be enforced.

“Is that you, Vladamir? I told you to stop calling me!”

It isn’t just Russia that’s doing all this phone spam. India is a big actor, too. Since it’s a friendly nation, it goes after phone spammers. Earlier this year, Indian police tracked and shut down a call center in Mumbai behind one of the “this is the IRS” scams. 

Of course, there are plenty of US-based spammers. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an arm of the Treasury Department, busted such a group working out of Miami at around the same time. (Like they say, if it’s from Florida….)

Woman on phone asking a ridiculous question to a spammer.
Another response to phone spam: “Will the IRS accept my Fry’s gas points?”

The more you read about phone spam, the weirder it gets and the more you wonder about people who fall for these schemes. I can understand an elderly person getting alarmed by the “your grandchild is in danger — send money!” scam.

But a scammer who demands payment in iTunes cards, as Forbes’ Kelly Phillips Erb reports, should definitely be a red flag. 

Block that Spam!

Many people just won’t answer a call from a number they don’t recognize. Merging your phone with your Outlook or Gmail contacts will let you know who’s calling before you pick up.

If a call is important, they’ll leave a voicemail, right? Right, but you might have to listen to a lot of them (although not all spammers leave them) and the number doesn’t get reported. 

Or you can take the route of my friend Nicole, who listed a table and chairs to sell on Craig’s list earlier this year.

Almost immediately, a spammer texted her with a long spiel about being out of town, but really wants her stuff. He would pay her through PayPal, a friend will pick up the table, etc.

Nicole responded by text-spamming him back several times with messages that ranged from changing the number of available chairs to requesting a picture and asking if the person was married. Eventually, the spammer blocked her calls, which while ironic, is an excellent way to reduce spam calls and texts.

I use Truecaller, which relies on people reporting spam and then shares the information with its network. So I can see whether a number has been reported as spam, and even how many people reported it.

You can also reassure Truecaller when a caller is legit by suggesting a name. But some people do want their names kept private, so be careful when you do this.

Reporting spam to the service app of your choice and to the DNC —even if they’re from other countries—can help us beat the spammers at their own game.

New Spam Calling Tricks

The latest trick I’ve seen on my phone are spammers who use the local area code, thinking I’m more likely to accept a local call. They’re right, but I’ve caught on.

Then, there are robocalls that try to sound like a real person. It’s usually a woman asking if you can hear her and once you reply, the rest of the tape starts rolling. Be very careful about this: your response is recorded and used for illicit means. It’s amazing what doors open with “yes” or even “yeah.”

Some robo-spam can even answer the question “are you a real person?” Clever, huh?

Text spam is particularly annoying and alarming. Don’t click on any links from a number you don’t recognize. You don’t know where they will take you.

Legitimate Businesses Must Avoid Looking Spammy

The sad thing is, spammers are harming legitimate marketing outreach. Law-abiding companies that do outreach like this need to be extra careful.

I recently tried HomeSmart to get some quotes for a new air condition unit “to be purchased at a later date.” I immediately got about three calls, and a couple more the next day.

A mere 12 hours after I placed the request, HomeSmart called me to ask if I’ve received information and would I like to turn off the reques

I received calls a day later and many were identified as spammers. HomeSmart has a pretty good reputation about vetting the vendors it recommends, so I’m sure these people were OK. But this is another twist to phone marketing that makes email marketing look even better.

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Ruth Ann Monti is a writer for all things webby. She lives in sunny Scottsdale, AZ with her son.