What is a California Robocall?
A robocall is a pre-recorded message which is delivered by a telephone call, usually via an auto-dialer. An auto-dialer is a type of computer software that automatically dials numerous phone numbers to disseminate recorded messages. The purposes of a robocall are to deliver information quickly, at a cheaper rate than a traditional call, and with little to no human involvement.
Robocalls are designed for the legitimate use of telemarketers. Over the years, robocalls have been adopted for political campaigns during elections in the United States. They are also used by government agencies for public service announcements, especially in times of emergencies. However, certain types of robocalls are illegal. Illegal robocalls attempt sales pitches without the express written permission of recipients. These are also spam calls. Scammers use robocalls and other forms of spam calls to defraud their targets and steal confidential information from them.
What are California Robocall Scams?
Generally, robocalls are not illegal in California, but robocall scams are. Robocalls have several legitimate uses, making it difficult to be banned by the United States government. They, however, are strictly regulated by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) in the state. Robocalls provide an affordable means of effectively communicating with a large audience. Their convenience and wide reach make them appealing to phone scammers.
California robocall scams are targeted primarily to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting individuals in the state. Phone scammers also use robocalls to find targets by spamming a lot of phone numbers and finding those currently active with unsuspecting owners willing to engage them. Often, fraudsters spoof robocalls to impersonate familiar organizations and government agencies.
In 2019, California recorded an estimated 6.01 billion robocalls, coming second after Texas with 6.64 billion robocalls. This amounted to an average of 128 robocalls per resident in that year. Robocalls made up over 70% of California's Do Not Call complaints in the same year.
How are Robocalls Used in California Scams?
Phone scammers spoof robocalls and impersonate legitimate businesses or the government to cheat Californians out of their money. They are aware that many residents would generally decline to answer calls from numbers they do not recognize. By spoofing the information that shows up on targets' Caller ID displays to those of legitimate entities, scammers can easily gain their targets’ trust. This is because Californians are more inclined to answer their phones if they know that incoming calls are from familiar organizations or the government. Robocalls are cost-effective means for reaching out to thousands of targets.
Does California Have Anti-Robocall Laws?
To curtail the ravaging effect of robocall scams in California, the state's governor, on October 2nd, 2019, signed into law the Consumer Call Protection Act (CCPA). It was first introduced by Senator Hueso as SB 208 in February 2019. Having passed several hearings and amendments, it was finally approved by California's governor and Chaptered by the Secretary of State in October 2019.
Below is a brief history of this legislation:
- February 4th, 2019 - Introduced by Senator Hueso, and read for the first time
- March 28th, 2019 - Set for hearing and amended by the author
- April 23rd, 2019 - Read the second time and amended in Senate
- July 2nd, 2019 - Amended in Senate
- August 30th, 2019 - Read the third time, and Amended in Senate
- September 18th, 2019 - Enrolled and presented to the Governor
- October 2nd, 2019 - Approved by the Governor, Gavin Newsom, and Chaptered by the Secretary of State.
The CCPA requires service providers to adopt technology that can authenticate and verify caller IDs for calls transmitted over internet protocol networks. Robocalls typically use specific computer software to route information over the internet to targeted individuals. Essentially, the CCPA wants phone carriers to deploy the STIR/SHAKEN protocols to reinforce California's crackdown against robocall scams latest by January 1st, 2021. This Act permits the California Attorney General's Office and the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to enforce the law.
Are there Special Requirements for Robocalls in California?
Legitimate robocalls have special requirements in the State of California. These provisions exist to enable residents to distinguish between illegal and legal robocalls and avoid scams. Exceptions to these requirements make a robocall presumed as ill-intended in the state. Robocalls are delivered to recipients by Automatic Dialing Announcing Devices (ADADs). The ADAD is known for its ability to dial thousands of phone numbers automatically while delivering pre-recorded messages at the same time. The following requirements are mandatory for a legitimate robocall in California:
- The call must be introduced by a live person who will request the recipient's consent to play the recorded message. The recipient of the call may choose to listen further or decline.
- There must be an existing relationship between the recipient and the initiator of the robocall.
- ADADs can only be used between 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. California time. Robocalls directed at Californians outside these hours are considered illegal.
However, some agencies and institutions are exempted from these requirements. They can reach out to residents at any time of the day and do not require live introductions. The agencies include:
- Banks for communicating with their customers
- Schools for disseminating information regarding students' attendance
- Public health, fire, and public environmental agencies for providing information to residents in times or emergencies
- Public and private utility companies for notifying the public in times of emergencies or proposed facility repairs
How Do I Stop Robocalls?
Many Californians receive multiple robocalls every day. This can be disturbing and equally annoying. Robocalls from scammers can also end up expensive for victims of phone scams. To effectively combat robocalls, phone users must also take certain steps to reduce the number of these calls reaching them. To stop being inundated by robocalls in California, the course of actions are:
- Decline calls from phone numbers you do not recognize or hang up once you realize they are robocalls. Never be tempted to act on instructions delivered during robocalls. Many robocalls will instruct that you press a specific button to unsubscribe to their calls. It is a ploy to identify live phone numbers for subsequent engagements that may get you scammed.
- Add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. Doing this would make it illegal for telemarketers to call you. You can register online or call 1 (888) 382-1222 from the phone number you wish to enroll. Joining the registry is free, and your number will be on it until you request that it be removed. Note that it takes 31 days for a registered number to be updated.
- Use the call-blocking features and third-party applications on your cell phone to block robocalls. Many of the call-blocking applications can recognize who is calling and block robocalls that appear on robocaller lists. Third-party applications that offer call-blocking services include Truecaller, Hiya, and Nomorobo. Residents can download them from mobile phone online stores.
- Set your cell phone to only receive calls from phone numbers on your contact lists. While there is a possibility of missing some important calls, know that legitimate callers will leave messages for you.
- Report robocalls to the FTC and the FCC online. You can also contact these agencies by phone. The FTC is reachable on 1 (888) 382-1222 while the FCC telephone line is 1 (888) 225-5322.