Unsolicited robocalls in the state are being met with new opposition from a special team dedicated to stopping the practice. Officials are urging residents to report the calls so they can be investigated and prosecuted.
(TNS) — The phones of nearly every Michigander are inundated with robocalls with dubious offers to deal with student loan debt, handle a non-existent problem with the IRS or extend a vehicle warranty. Now, you could help stop the calls by filing a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
"The message we want to send loud and clear is if you are engaged in this kind of illegal activity, we are going to come after you. And we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a press conference unveiling a new Robocall Crackdown Team recently.
MLive sat down with Wisam Naoum, an assistant attorney general in the AG’s Corporate Oversight Division and a member of the new Robocall Crackdown Team, to learn more about what the team hopes to learn from your robocalls.
“This is such a difficult and pervasive problem that for years federal enforcers, state enforces have struggled to deal with it as the scope of the problem has increased rather dramatically. We’re now just starting to develop these capabilities to fight back,” Naoum said.
There are legal robocalls, including from companies whose lists you’ve signed up for, your pharmacy reminding you a prescription is ready or requesting money for a charitable organization or political party.
And then there are the illegal ones, which include those trying to sell you something over $25; people calling even if you’re on the national Do Not Call Registry; calls where the caller doesn’t provide their full name, who they are calling for and a phone number that will be answered by a live operator; and calls that use “spoofing” to impersonate a misleading number or inaccurate caller ID.
It’s those illegal ones the state wants to hear about. Naoum answered questions about how to report those calls to help with the crackdown.
Q: How can everyday Michiganders help the Robocall Crackdown Team?
A: Reporting all the information that you’re getting from these calls.
What we tried to do when we set up this complaint form was to make it as easy for the complainee, while at the same time making it easy for the investigators and the attorneys working on these potential cases to actually do something with that information if it’s a good lead.
And it all depends right? You want the public to be able to fill in as much as they can, from not just you know the number they received the call, but what was the scam about, what were they trying to do, did you lose any money, who’s your service provider? All these things give us little tidbits that allow the investigator to further the case along just a little bit further or it gives us good data points for our data tracking for us to spot like a trend.
...it allows us to do a lot, but really we need the public to not only just fill out the basics, but to really fill out as much as they can.
Q: Where do people report robocalls?
A: It’s at mi.gov/robocalls.
Q: What kind of information is helpful to know when members of the public want to report these robocalls?
In general, Naoum said, good information to have includes:
- your phone number
- the number that called you
- the exact time that they called you
- what the scam was about
- any information you could glean from them
Q: Should people pick up the phone to get that information?
A: We advise not. But if they’re in a scenario where they do, we’ll take the information. What we advise is, quite frankly if you don’t recognize the phone number don’t answer. Let it go to voicemail if it’s important they’ll leave you a voicemail and you can call back. You shouldn’t be answering these phone calls, you should not press one when prompted. you should just hang up.
There’s usually a one- or two-second delay in these phone calls, and that’s due to sort of the auto-dialer technology. And right away you should know that you should hang up once you hear that pause. And then if it’s an automated call just right away hang up.
Q: Should people report every time they get a robocall? ... If you get calls every day about your student loan debt you don’t have, do you report that once or do you report it every day?
A: The best practice I would say is if they’re diligent have the time, is to report it as often as they can, as often as they get it. But we understand that it’s a time-consuming process and that you’re probably inundated with robocalls. But again, the first priority is protecting yourself. The second priority is getting that information that you can get to us. So I think if they follow sort of the guides that we’ve given, they’ll be better protected. But then, to the extent that they’re still inundated and they’re still getting them, absolutely report them to us.
Q: What about voicemails, are those helpful?
A: Any recording is actually helpful so on the complaint form we sort of instruct folks to, if they do have a recording to send that over to us via email. And on the robocall complaint form there is an email address and instructions on how to do that. And again from an enforcement perspective, right, you’re just giving us more tools to win a case, essentially, and a recording goes a long way.
Q: What kinds of calls should people not report?
A: Anything that is essentially flagged as legal on the website, you don’t need to report those.
... let’s say you are online, and you’re looking for a mortgage or something like that. Certain companies will have when you fill in information for like you want to estimate or a quote, given the language and what you’re signing up for... you’re likely going to give them express consent to contact you.
So, If you’ve done something like that if you’ve given a company express consent to do that, don’t report that. If you’re an existing customer of a company and they robocall you don’t report that. If it’s a political call don’t report that. If it’s someone soliciting for a legal charity that’s not fraudulent in any way that’s usually going to be legal. So there’s certain things that are legal that we don’t really need reports on and those will be listed on the website.
Q: I heard from one person who said they get between 12 and 20 robocalls per day. Is there anything people can do to make themselves less likely to get robocalls?
A: Yes, not answering them, number one.
And then we have a lot of materials on the website under the 'protect yourself’ banner.
Q: How many complaints does the AG get about robocalls currently, before this enforcement push?
A: This is the number one complaint we receive in this office and that’s why you’ve seen the AG act aggressively on this issue it is far and away the number one complaint we get.
Q: How long do you think it will take before Michiganders see a noticeable decrease in robocalls because of this effort?
A: So, this is going to take some time. This is not announcing this was not you know this the silver bullet and robocallers are going to look at it and stop calling into Michigan. This is a wide-ranging initiative that draws on partnerships with federal agencies and we’re working with them to develop a lot of protocols...
We’re working with the carriers to see what works best for them and what we can do from the legal side of things to help them. And likewise, they’re talking to us to see what the best ways to help us on enforcement are. So, for instance, trace-back. We’ve been developing the ability to trace back robocalls to the ultimate caller, whereas previously we weren’t able to do that. That relies on a partnership between law enforcement and the carriers for instance.
So you’re going to see a lot of action from different players, whether it’s industry, state government, federal government that are working on this. So, all the things that we’re implementing we’re implementing together. And hopefully, we’re going to start to see some benefits from this soon. But we’re not again, we’re not sure. These people are that are making these calls are dynamic, they’re sophisticated, they’re clever. And so, so far they’ve been a step or two ahead but now we’re closing the gap. We’ll see how they respond.
Q: One of our commenters saw the initial story about the Robocalls crackdown effort and quipped “next time she is going to ensure everyone receives a pet unicorn.” What do you say to people who have no hope that robocalls can be stopped?
A: Again, this is something that is not a silver bullet, we’re not going to stop every robocall from anyone ever. If you’re thinking of it in that sense, that’s probably the incorrect way to do it. And we’re also a government agency that is resource-limited in the sense of how much the legislature gives us, and we do with that what we can.
... one of the partnerships we’re developing is with the public. And so, if they’re better protecting themselves, that makes our lives a little bit easier. If they’re also reporting these vigilantly it makes our lives a lot easier, because we’re able to track data trends, see exactly what’s happening, and so on so forth. So I mean we’re hoping to eventually get to the point where we can stop a robocall campaign in their tracks, for instance, which we haven’t had the capability to do in the past.
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