Have you ever answered a phone call from an unknown number, only to hear a pre-recorded message? These “robocalls” are very common, and most of them are scams. In particular, scammers pretending to work with Google often target small business owners. Keep reading to learn how to stop receiving these annoying, predatory, and illegal calls.
The Real Problem with Robo Sales Calls: They’re Illegal
A robocall is an automated phone call that plays a recorded message. As technology makes it cheaper and easier for scammers to send these calls out en masse, robocalls are becoming increasingly prevalent. An estimated 2.4 billion robocalls are made every month. Almost everyone with a phone gets them sometimes.
Robocalls aren’t just annoying. They’re illegal, unless you’ve signed up to receive them, and they’re often fraudulent. Most of the time, robocalls are sent out by scammers to scare people into handing over money or personal information.
How? One common scenario is that you receive an automated call from someone who claims to work for or be affiliated with Google. Some of these callers might claim they can improve your site’s ranking if you pay a fee or sign up for their service. Others might say your business listing is about to expire, and offer to renew or manage it for you. There are lots of ways these scammers might try to fish for your credit card number or other personal information, and you shouldn’t fall for any of them.
Even though this type of call isn’t legitimate, many people mistakenly think Google is behind them. This has tarnished Google’s name a bit, and Google has taken steps to fight back. In 2015, Google sued Local Lighthouse, a California-based SEO company that had been robocalling people and falsely claiming to be affiliated with Google. Google has also published a page with details on how to tell if a call is a scam, and they’ve set up a form where people can submit details about robocalls they’ve received.
Despite all of this, the practice of robocalling is still alive and well. Many of these scammers live overseas and use technology to spoof U.S.-based caller IDs, making them difficult or impossible to track down. It looks like robocallers are going to be around for a while, so what should you do if you find yourself on the line with one?
Identifying a Scam
First, make sure the call is a scam. This usually isn’t hard to do. If you’re not sure, there are a few red flags you can look for:
- First, know that Google doesn’t use pre-recorded messages unless you request an automated call from them. Any legitimate, unsolicited call from Google will have a real person on the other end.
- It doesn’t cost any money to list your business or manage your listing on Google. Don’t trust anyone who wants to do this for a fee.
- Likewise, you can’t pay Google to improve your website’s ranking.
- Google will not ask you for personal information like your date of birth or credit card number over the phone. (Nor, for that matter, will any other legitimate company.)
What to Do if a Scammer Calls You
Of course, you should never give out any personal information over the phone. There are also a few other things you should do (or avoid doing) if you get an automated call from someone claiming to be with Google.
- Do not say anything. Just hang up. If you say something, you’ll confirm that there’s a real person on your end of the line, and the scammer will probably try calling you again.
- Don’t push any buttons. Some robocallers will tell you to press a number to speak to someone or hang up. Don’t do it – this will also confirm that you’re a real person.
- Report the call to the FTC. Robocalling is illegal if you haven’t signed up to receive the calls. File a complaint with the FTC here. Note that you can file a complaint for a robocall even if you’re not currently listed on the National Do Not Call Registry (more on this in a minute). Below is an example of the FTC complaint page for robocalls:
- Report the call to Google. You can find the form here. The more information you can provide, the better Google will be able to track down the company that called you.
It’s important to deal with robocalls the right way, but wouldn’t it be great to prevent them from happening in the first place? While you may never be able to get rid of the calls entirely, here are a few things you can do to avoid most of them.
- See if you can find your phone number online. You may never find out where the scammers got ahold of your number, but it’s also possible that your number is somewhere on the internet where anyone can see it. Google your number and see what comes up. If your number shows up on social media, a list, or somewhere else easy to find, see if you can get it taken down.
- Add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. The National Do Not Call Registry is a list of phone numbers that telemarketers are not allowed to call. Once your number is on that list, it’s illegal for anyone to pester you. Of course, scammers with questionable business practices may not respect the registry, but it’s a good place to start. At the very least, reputable companies won’t call you anymore. Below is an example of the what the webpage looks like, found here.
- Block scammers’ phone numbers. Most smartphones have a feature that lets you block certain numbers from calling you. If you’ve been getting persistent robocalls from the same number, this is probably your best option for stopping them. You may also be able to contact your phone company and report scammers that won’t leave you alone. Below is an example from PC Mag:
- Use an app or tool to block the calls. If you’re sick of getting flooded with robocalls from different numbers, an app like Nomorobo or TrueCaller might be what you need. These apps can identify callers and filter out robocalls before your phone even rings. But if you ever need to take legitimate automated calls, such as reminders from your doctor’s office, be aware that these apps may filter them out too.
Robocalls are annoying, especially if you get a lot of them. You know better than to give away your information, of course, but you’re probably tired of dealing with automated calls when you’re trying to focus on other things. Luckily, while scammers will always be out there, there’s plenty you can do to stop them from bothering you. Put these tips to work for you, and you’ll probably receive a lot fewer robocalls in the future.