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Consumers at risk from robocall scams

While a large majority of Americans suspect that most of the automated telephone messages – or “robocalls” – that they receive are attempts at scams, few are taking actions to protect themselves, according to results of a new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

An estimated 48 billion robocalls came into the United States last year. Nearly half of U.S. adults surveyed said they receive seven or more robocalls every week.

There are companies and organizations that use automated call technology for legitimate purposes, such as school cancellation notices. The technology, however, has also made it easier for con artists to reach millions with their fraud schemes. Telephone scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

AARP’s survey verified that nearly all consumers rely on caller ID when deciding when to answer a call, even though three in four say they know the information that shows up may be fabricated, or “spoofed.”

Spoofing has given the criminals the upper hand. Phone numbers that look familiar or local may be neither. The survey found that U.S. adults are more likely to answer a call seemingly from a local number.

The survey also found that people are more likely to be victimized by scam calls involving threatened losses – “You owe unpaid taxes” or “You are facing jail time for missing jury duty” – than those promising rewards – “You’ve won the lottery” or “You qualify for a free vacation.”

To help protect against illegal robocalls, consumers should add their telephone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov. Only about half of the survey respondents said they have done so. Registering your number will not stop fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to recognize since most legitimate telemarketers do not call numbers on the registry.

Here are other tips to reduce robocalls and to help protect yourself from scams:

– Avoid answering calls from unknown numbers, but if you answer what sounds like a potential scam, hang up immediately. If a recorded message asks you to push a button to stop receiving calls, do not do so as it is likely a trick to identify potential targets. Just hang up.

– Avoid answering any personal questions asked by a stranger on the phone, especially if you’re being asked to share account numbers, your Social Security number, or your mother’s maiden name, for example.

– If you receive a call from someone who says they represent a company or government agency, hang up and call the entity back, either at the number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on an official website.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to a scam.