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5 things to know about robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission has been asked to look into the issue of robocalls, the automated phone messages favored by political campaigns, charities and scammers. At issue is whether phone companies can do more to protect consumers from fraudulent calls.

Here are five things to know about robocalls:

Sales robocalls are almost always a scam.

Robocalls are never allowed on cellphones, unless you give them prior written consent or it's an emergency. Robocalls to your landline are only allowed from political campaigns, charities, debt collectors, survey takers and information services such as your pharmacy or school. So if you get a robocall selling a product or claiming that a product has been purchased for you, hang up immediately.

The scam.

Scammers like to pretend they are conducting a survey or representing a charity before connecting you with a live operator who will try to sell you something. That's still illegal. Some also pretend to be from the IRS or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, rambling off fake badge numbers and trying to scare people into thinking they will be audited or deported unless they pay a fee or divulge banking information.

Don't press "1."

Pressing any number, even if it suggests that doing so will take you off their list, only confirms your number is working and that they have reached a live person. Engaging the call in any way will just lead to more calls.

Caller ID means nothing.

It's called "spoofing," and it prevents you from knowing where the call is really coming from. You can ask your phone company to block a particular number. But by the time you do that, the same scammers will probably move on to a different number. Your own phone number can even appear on the caller ID, whereas the call might be coming from overseas.

Register your number on the 'do not call' list.

But don't expect much. Scammers ignore the registry so it's unlikely to stop the problem. But at least then you'll know that every time you get a call, and it's not a political campaign, survey or charity, it's a scam. Under the rules, a company can only call you if you have an "established business relationship." Even in that case, it has to be a live sales call and not a robocall.

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