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Political Campaign Robocalls & Robotexts in the U.S.: Protect Yourself From Scams During an Election Year

George

George

08 Oct 2020

Robocalls can irritate even the most patient person, particularly when they come at inconvenient times, like during dinner or when you’re headed out the door for work. Campaign calls during an election year can have the same effect. A common question that we get asked at CallerSmart is: What are the Federal Communications Commission’s rules about political robocalls?

The FCC published specific rules about automated calls centered on political campaigns. Basically, political robocalls are permissible if they’re made to a landline number, even if the recipient did not give previous consent. It is not permissible to make those robocalls to cell phone numbers, other mobile devices, or protected lines like emergency or toll-free numbers, including hospitals and similar facilities, unless the party has given prior consent.

All pre-recorded voice calls, political and otherwise, must contain the following information:

  • The name of the individual or organization placing the call. The person must state the information at the beginning of the phone call.
  • The call must include the telephone number of the party making the call. Beware that many robocallers – particularly if they are scams – use caller ID spoofing to mask their real numbers.

Like robocalls, organizations also send robotexts through automated call systems. The FCC recognizes robotexts as a form of a phone call; therefore, they fall under the same rules as robocalls. Automated political texts can only be sent to cell phone numbers that have given their consent. Campaign text messages often prove to be more effective since the recipient can read the message at leisure.

If a text isn’t sent via an automated messaging system then they can be sent without prior consent to cell phones. 

The Time magazine published an alert warning Americans to expect a surge in political calls and text messages this election year. YouMail, a voicemail software developer, recently stated that Americans received about 60 billion robocalls in 2019, an increase of 22% from 2018. While some robocalls were on behalf of legitimate charities and businesses, many of the robocalls were illegal scams. Fortunately, the explosive growth of phone calls in the past few years has increased legal scrutiny.

The Passing of the TRACED Act 

In December 2019, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act went into effect. The act intends to “provide American consumers with even greater protection against annoying unsolicited robocalls.” 

The TRACED Act requires service providers like Verizon and AT&T, to use new technology to authenticate calls. The authentication will help eliminate caller ID spoofing and spam robocalls, including those soliciting services or perpetrating scams.

Experts agree that TRACED will reduce the number of robocalls and robotexts, but fear it will also spur more regulation.

Unwanted robocalls will never go away completely; however, the FCC wants to make violators pay the price – a $10,000 fine per instance.

The Supreme Court Ruling Upholding the Ban on Robocalls

In July 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered an opinion on Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants. In the case political consultants argued that a 2015 exception to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) violated free speech as it is defined in the First Amendment. The 1991 case prohibited robocalls to mobile phones. The 2015 exception allowed robocalls if they attempted to collect a debt owed to or backed by the federal government.

The argument posed by the political consultants included the fact that the TCPA is “content-based,” showing favoritism to debt collectors. The fractured court ruled that the TCPA ban does not scrutinize based on content, and that the 2015 exception should be excluded. A different ruling would have changed the landscape of political campaign robocalls, allowing candidates to call cell phones. However, the court found the restrictions of the TCPA of 1991 still stand for political robocalls; free speech and First Amendment rights were not violated. In addition, automated calls to collect debts owed to the government will no longer be permitted either.

Political Robocalls & Robotexts Scams

Everyday scammers are creating new ploys to trick their victims and steal money and information. Below are just a few of the most common types of election year-related scams: 

Political Donations Scam

Scammers take advantage of every opportunity to con people out of money. When it comes to political scams, the fraudsters know that people are passionate. Political donations phone scams convince potential victims to donate to a candidate or party’s campaign. Once the person agrees to donate, a “volunteer” takes down their bank or credit card information. In actuality, the volunteer steals money from their victim or uses it for identity theft. 

Political Surveys Scam

During an election year polls and surveys of voters are important. In this common scam, robocalls are placed to unsuspecting victims offering cash prizes and other items to survey participants. If the target chooses to participate they’ll be connected to a live person who will ask for sensitive information. The victim not thinking that the situation is a scam will often give over information like their address, birth date, and credit card information.

Voter Registration & Voter Suppression Scams

In voter registration phone scams, the target will receive an automated call stating that they’re not yet registered to vote. The automated message will offer to connect the individual to a representative who can help them register. In reality, the person that you’re connected to will be a scammer. They’ll ask for sensitive information such as your date of birth and Social Security Number, information which will then allow them to steal your identity. If you’re unsure of your voting status or if you need to register to vote, go to Vote.gov to find out how to register in your state and explore voting and election resources.

Voter suppression calls include automated messages which provide false information to voters as election day approaches. This year due to COVID-19 many polling places are closed or have changed location. As election day approaches check USA.gov for helpful and valid information.

What to Do if You Receive a Political Robocall Scam

If you receive an incoming call that you suspect is an illegal political call or scam, do the following:

  • If there is an automated recording that does not identify itself, hang up.
  • Do not press any button to “opt-out” of further calls. Pushing a number lets the caller know you answered, and you will receive more calls. Scammers do not honor Do Not Call lists or the National Do Not Call Registry.
  • If you speak to a live operator, refuse to give or verify any personal information.
  • Ask for the caller’s name, company, or organization, and number so you can call them back at a more convenient time.
  • If you suspect the caller used caller ID spoofing, report it to the FCC. File a consumer complaint online or contact them by phone at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). Also, remember to block the number on your iPhone in a few easy steps.

How to Stop Political Robocalls & Robotexts

Political candidates spend millions of dollars on their campaigns, targeted to convince people to vote for them in an upcoming election. There are TV ads, banners, signs, print media ads, and, of course, robocalls and robotexts. Political candidates want to win their elections and pull out all the stops to do so. That may include making tens of thousands of political calls through automated calls or call center volunteers. However, the TCPA states that it is illegal for someone to use an automated dialing system to call or text your cell phone without explicit consent to do so. Landline calls are still legal. Here are some tips to avoid receiving political robocalls and robotexts:

  • Don’t rely on the Do Not Call List, the national list of mobile and landline phone numbers that have opted out of receiving legitimate telemarketing calls. The Do Not Call List does not apply to political calls.
  • Don’t put your phone number on your voter registration. You are not legally required to add a phone number, only your street address. You may also have your phone number removed by updating your registration online.
  • Screen your calls and let unknown calls go to voicemail. Use a reverse phone lookup app, like CallerSmart, to research the unknown phone numbers.
  • Check with your landline carrier. Phone companies typically have call screening features. Remember that robocallers and scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their real numbers. It’s best to let unknown numbers go to voicemail or reject them outright.
  • Check with your wireless provider. Wireless phone companies also offer call blocking features, often for a fee. Call your carrier to learn about your options.
  • Block unknown numbers. If you receive calls from a suspicious, unknown number, you can block it using your phone’s settings. While robocalls and robotexts use random numbers, you may get numerous calls from the same number. Block any call that is marked suspicious by your service provider or caller ID app.

Know Your Rights & Warn Others

While the current laws and the recent Supreme Court ruling have placed limitations on political robocalls and robotexts, they are still legal. It’s important to know your rights and if they have been violated. If you've received an illegal political robocall or robotext, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. For more information about how to file a complaint or the process, visit FCC Complaint Center FAQ.

If you feel you’ve been the target of a scam, be sure to report it to the authorities and file a complaint with the FTC’s Complaint Assistant. Also, make sure your friends and family are aware of these types of scams. You can warn others by downloading CallerSmart's free reverse phone book app for iPhone by leaving your feedback on numbers you suspect are involved in scams. If you don't have an iPhone, you can use the reverse phone number lookup service on our website and leave your feedback.

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