If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a robocall.

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If you’re getting a lot of robocalls trying to sell you something, odds are the calls are illegal. Many are also probably scams.

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Tech journalist and privacy advocate Paul Bischoff recently prepared an elder fraud analysis of phone scams targeting seniors for the technology research firm, CompariTech. His report is an eye-opener on elder fraud.

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The report revealed that seniors are primary targets for fraudsters, accounting for 38% of scams, and that there are an estimated 5 million cases of elder fraud annually resulting in $27.4 billion in losses.

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S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has been among those combating robocalls, taking part in a nationwide public awareness campaign. The social media effort is part of “Operation Call it Quits,” a joint crackdown on robocalls by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC announced 94 actions against operations responsible for more than 1 billion calls.

“I get robocalls just like everyone else does and they have become a legitimate nuisance,” Wilson said. “This crackdown by the FTC goes after some of the worst offenders, and the public education part of ‘Operation Call it Quits’ will help everyone avoid some of these calls and know what to do when they get them.”

In March, Wilson was part of a coalition of 54 state and territory attorneys general sending a letter to the U.S. Senate urging it to pass the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which is aimed at curbing robocalls and caller ID spoofing. That law would require voice service providers to participate in a call authentication framework to block unwanted calls. It would also create an interagency working group to take additional actions to reduce robocalls and hold telemarketers and robocallers accountable.

In the meantime, a new Federal Communications Commission ruling could help vs. robocalls, particularly if the ruling prompts phone companies to implement technologies that automatically block them.

In addition to announcing legal action against robocallers, a large part of “Operation Call it Quits” is the social media campaign that gives consumers information on how to avoid robocalls and what they should do when they receive them.

Some things you need to know:

  • A robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way. To get your permission, the company has to be clear it’s asking to call you with robocalls, and it can’t make you agree to the calls to get a product or service. If you give permission, you have the right to change your mind later.
  • A few types of robocalls are allowed under FTC rules without your permission, like political calls about candidates running for office or charities asking for donations.
  • If you get a robocall, hang up. Don't press any numbers.
  • If you believe the call to be illegal, report it to the FTC at donotcall.gov.

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