Robocalls are big business for scam artists. In 2021, these criminals walked away with $29 billion. Who do they target? Anyone who picks up the phone. Protect yourself by learning how to spot illegal robocalls and installing the Allstate Robocall Blocker app (if you're an Allstate Identity Protection member).

Ring, ring: You've got an incoming call. Could it be your doctor calling about your next appointment? Or will it be a robotic voice reciting a pre-recorded message about your vehicle’s extended warranty?

With four billion robocalls happening each month, it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a robocaller on the other line.

Robocalls can do more than just disrupt your peace. If the call is coming from a scammer, they can put your finances and identity at risk. In 2021 alone, American consumers lost $29 billion to robocall scams, according to The National Center for Consumer Law.

What is a robocall? 

The National Association of Consumer Advocates defines a robocall as any prerecorded message made by an auto-dialer, an electronic device, or software that automatically dials telephone numbers.

On the receiving end, a robocall gives itself away when you pick up the phone and encounter:  

  • A recorded message 

  • Silence when you initially answer the call 

  • Offers for services related to products you don’t own 

  • Urgent requests that demand a quick reply 

  • Conversational timing and responses that seem odd or overly scripted 

Robocalls are not always against the law

Many robocalls are legal, and not all are done maliciously.

That includes calls from telemarketers, at least those you’ve given consent to contact you. Consider all those marketing “opt-in” boxes you encounter on websites: Agree to be contacted, and you will likely start receiving emails, texts, calls, and more.

In addition to law-abiding telemarketers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also allows the following entities to place robocalls:   

  • Tax-exempt non-profits  

  • Political groups  

  • Survey takers  

  • Religious organizations  

  • Debt collectors (if they obtained your consent to call) 

  • Emergency services 

  • Government agencies 

In addition, airlines, healthcare offices, schools, and others with whom you have appointments can robocall a landline number without your consent. However, before the same entities can call your wireless phone, they must obtain your consent.

What about telemarketing robocalls?

Telemarketers must also adhere to specific rules when robocalling which fall under the federal “Telemarketing Sales Rule”. This includes guidelines like:  

  • Calling only if you’ve given prior consent to do so 

  • Calling during the hours and days specified by the feds and/or your state (federal law mandates calls occur between 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., but individual states sometimes expand those hours)  

  • Announcing the call is a sales call 

  • Stating the telemarketer’s business name 

  • Displaying the telemarketer’s phone number on Caller ID  

In addition, telemarketers must consult national and state Do Not Call Lists” and are prohibited from calling any listed number. The national registry updates every 31 days, but state registries often take longer.

However, some consent forms ask if a company can contact you regardless of whether you're on the Do Not Call list. If an entity or company digitally asks for your consent to call, read the terms and conditions carefully before you agree.

How to spot a scam robocall   

If a call does not meet the guidelines shared above, it could be a scam.

To shield against unwanted scam calls, the FCC shares these tips:  

  • Don’t answer a number you don’t recognize, even if you recognize the area code. “Spoofing” allows scammers to use actual phone numbers and area codes near your own. The hope is that you’ll answer thinking you may know the caller or that they are local.

  • Don’t be the first to speak. If you do pick up an unknown call, don’t say anything. If the call automatically disconnects after a few seconds, a robocall may have just tested your number as a potential mark.

  • Simply hang up. When an automated call asks you to press a number or say a word to stop getting calls, hang up instead.

  • Protect your personally identifiable information (PII). Never give away your Social Security number, account numbers, PINs, or other information to someone who calls you.

  • Confirm the caller’s ID. If a caller states they are with a governmental agency or business, take down their number and hang up. Look up the group’s phone number on their website or in paperwork previously shared with you. If the number they shared matches what you find, you can call back.

  • Look out for “too good to be true” offers. Be very wary of offers, sweepstakes, and requests for donations. Verify the authenticity of the caller and cause before getting involved.

Report scam robocalls

You can also enlist the help of national agencies to protect yourself from scam robocalls.   

Report any fraud or rogue telemarketers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Though they don’t take up individual cases, they add your complaint to a database that thousands of law enforcement officials use.

Additionally, the FCC records consumer complaints and routes the reports to the party in question and gives the recipient 30 days to respond. Get started by filling out the online form or calling 1-888-225-5322 to report scam robocalls. 

How to block robocalls 

If you're getting too many unwanted automated calls — whether they're legal or not — you can take steps to stop receiving them.

First, a blocker service like the Allstate Robocall Blocker adds a robust layer of protection to your phone.

This robocall blocker defends you in three ways:

The first tier of protection is automatic call screening. When a caller rings your line, the blocker app checks it against your contacts. The app then asks the caller to state their name and the call’s purpose. You listen to the brief message and either accept the call, reject it or send it to voicemail. After that, you can block that number or add it to your contacts.

The second safety shield involves an automated cross-check of the incoming number. When an unidentified call comes in, the app cross-references the incoming number against its global database of millions of scam phone numbers. If the incoming number matches one on the list, it gets blocked.

The app’s third layer of protection involves analyzing the robocall’s communication. The app screens the caller’s dialogue for common scamming terms and language patterns and alerts you of potential risks. Essentially, it’s an AI bouncer who gives the caller a once-over before admitting them.

If you’re not protected by a robocall blocker, you can enter your numbers on the National Don’t Call List at DoNotCall.gov — to stop unwanted sales calls.