Robocalls are automated phone calls that deliver prerecorded messages to multiple receivers at the same time. Sometimes these calls are initiated through an automated dialing system. Unlike spam calls, which are always unwanted calls, robocalls are sometimes used for personal purposes like setting reminders for events. Legitimate businesses typically use robocalls as a telemarketing tool. This is because of their ability to reach many people at the same time and their relative cheapness. They are also used for emergency and public service announcements and also for political campaigns.
Telephone solicitation calls made without the recipient’s written consent are considered illegal in the United States. This means that before a robocall is made to a person, the person on behalf of whom the call is being made must obtain the recipient’s consent, especially if the call is made to solicit funds or information. However, some types of robocalls are exempt from this requirement. They include:
- Robocalls that are made strictly to disseminate information;
- Robocalls that contain political messages or are made for political campaigns;
- Robocalls that are made on behalf of a charitable organization, provided the recipients have previously donated to the organization or are current members of the organization;
- Robocalls that are made on behalf of pharmacies, hospitals, and healthcare providers;
- Robocalls that are made for debt collection;
What are Washington Robocall Scams?
Robocall scams involve the use of robocalls to deceitfully obtain money and sensitive information. A robocall is typically supposed to be made with the recipient’s consent. However, robocall scammers use a phone spoofing technique to deceive unsuspecting people by disguising their caller IDs to make the calls look like they are coming from a nearby location. This increases the likelihood of the receiver picking up the call. Scammers also spoof their numbers to look like the call is coming from a government agency, financial institution, or a well-known establishment.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual Do Not Call Data Book published for 2019, over 3,780,000 robocall complaints were recorded in the United States. At least 94,000 of these complaints were registered in the state of Washington.
There are various ways that a robocall can be used to carry out phone scams. However, these robocall scams all share some common characteristics:
- The calls are made using numbers that look familiar;
- The calls always solicit for payment, mostly through wire transfers, prepaid money cards, or gift cards;
- The calls always try to pressure you to make a quick decision;
- The calls require that you press a number to speak to a live agent before you can opt-out of receiving further calls.
Does Washington Have Anti-Robocall Laws?
The Revised Code of Washington Chapter 80.36.400 prohibits the use of automatic dialing and announcing devices for making commercial solicitation calls to residents of the state. Offenders found guilty of this violation are charged a fine of $500.
Washington also has a Commercial Telephone Solicitation Law that lists requirements that have to be followed by all telemarketers that wish to operate in the state of Washington. Offenders found guilty of violating this law can be punished with fines ranging from $500-$2,000 per violation.
Finally, Washington is also subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Telephone and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, which are both federal anti-robocall laws. The Washington State Office of the Attorney General is responsible for ensuring compliance with the federal and state anti-robocall laws.
Are there Special Requirements for Robocalls in Washington?
As stipulated by Section 400 of Chapter 80.36 of the Revised Code of Washington, commercial solicitation robocalls made with an automatic dialing device are not allowed in Washington.
The state’s Commercial Telephone Solicitation Law also has many requirements similar to federal robocall requirements. These requirements are:
- Commercial telephone solicitation calls made to a residence must be done between 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., at the local time of the receiver;
- The call must identify the company on whose behalf the solicitation is being made within the first minute after the receiver picks up the call;
- The call must be terminated within 10 seconds of the receiver indicating disinterest in continuing the conversation;
- The call must not require that payment be made by credit card authorization, and it must not state a preference for one method of payment over another for deceptive or unfair reasons;
- Commercial telephone solicitation calls must not be made to a person for at least one year after they indicate that they no longer wish to be contacted by the telemarketer. The telemarketer is also prohibited from providing the details of this person to another commercial telephone solicitor;
- All commercial telephone solicitation calls must inform receivers of their right to cancel any agreement to purchase or any sales made and provide a street address for the seller of the product.
Federal robocall requirements are also applicable in the state of Washington. They include:
- Telemarketing robocalls must be made to only receivers that have given consent to receive these calls;
- Political robocalls cannot be made to protected phone lines, mobile devices, and cell phones without obtaining consent from the person receiving the call;
Note that robocall scammers typically disregard these rules. To tackle the menace of caller ID spoofing and robocall related scams in the country, the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a new caller ID authentication system known as STIR/SHAKEN. Phone companies have been mandated to implement this system into their networks no later than the 30th of June, 2021.
How Do I Stop Robocalls?
Unsolicited robocalls are an annoying interruption to a person’s daily routine. When used together with caller ID spoofing technology, these robocalls also provide an avenue for con artists and phone scammers to defraud unsuspecting individuals. Washingtonians that wish to stop receiving unwanted robocalls, and reduce the chances of falling victim to a robocall scam can do so by taking the following steps:
- Register with the National Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketers are prohibited from calling phone numbers that are listed on this registry. Note that this prohibition takes effect at least 31 days after the phone number is registered;
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. However, some robocall scammers spoof their caller IDs before making calls. If you answer a call from a spoofed number, hang up as soon as you realize that it is a robocall;
- Disregard any requests from a robocall call that asks you to press a number to stop receiving further robocalls or to speak to a live agent;
- Perform a reverse phone number lookup on numbers that you are suspicious of. If the search does not produce any results, then it is probably from a spoofed phone number;
- Block all calls and messages from suspicious numbers or numbers that you have confirmed are robocall numbers. You can use a software app for this or contact your telecommunications provider to find out if they offer this service;
- Report all suspected phone scams to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. You can also report unwanted robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.