LOS ANGELES — It seems that every time the phone rings, it’s a reminder robocalls are on the rise. To put a number on it, 2018 saw 26.3 billion robocalls made to cell phones in the U.S. with the volume of these calls continuing to rise, according to robocall blocking app Hiya.
Beyond “how do I get them to stop,” the question many of us ask is who is giving them my number in the first place. It turns out, we are.
Often in our routine activities, we are unwittingly giving companies permission to call us.
The good news is that there are ways to avoid robocall companies from getting your number. Although these steps cannot guarantee you will not receive robocalls – any phone number can be randomly generated and called using robocall technology – it will reduce the chance of these companies finding and sharing your number.
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The Federal Communications Commission has worked to eliminate robocallers by making it illegal for telemarketers to make recorded calls unless the phone number was given to them willingly. However, many times we give companies permission to use our information without realizing it.
To do just about anything nowadays, you need to register accounts with each service you sign up for, which often includes releasing contact information such as email addresses and phone numbers. While this information can be useful when you forget your password or are locked out of your account, you may inadvertently be giving them permission to call you or sell your phone number to other companies to do the same.
Even if you fill out the form but do not request the company’s service, entering that information can be enough for the company to collect it, said Jonathan Nelson, director of project management at Hiya.
Nelson suggests getting a cheap second line either through your provider or another app such as Google Voice that you can use if a phone number is required to register, and you can stop using that number anytime.
If you have already given permission to the company to call you, there are ways to avoid robocalls – such as registering on the national Do Not Call Registry, downloading call blocking apps or simply telling them to stop calling you – but it can be time-consuming and your data might already be out there. This also doesn’t stop illegal robocallers from dialing your number, which you can report to the FCC.
If you don’t know the number calling you, do not answer your phone even to heckle the caller, says Nelson, as just answering alerts robocallers that your line is active.
2. Do not put contact information on the internet
For more than safety reasons, it is not wise to put your personal contact information on social media or anywhere on the internet because data aggregators can collect this information and sell your profile to telemarketers.
Aggregators give companies prospective leads linked to your phone number and email address to improve their knowledge of you to help them better appeal to you.
“Just because you happen to make your phone number public on Facebook or you left it on your signature on a web forum once – all of these are bad ideas by the way – does not mean consent for people to call you,” said Nelson. “It would not be legal for a company to do that.”
Although it might be illegal, companies do collect information from these leads, either unknowingly or turning a blind eye to the process of how they were collected, said Nelson.
You can stop the company from sharing your information by emailing or calling them, but you have to give them your email address, full name, street address, date of birth and phone number – information they might not have had in the first place. You also have to individually opt-out with every data aggregation company, which might not be a realistic option unless you have loads of patience and spare time.
3. Check your state’s voter registration distribution policy
Registering to vote can actually lead to your phone number being used by political parties to call you. For this reason, it is important to know how each state allows people to access and use voter registration information.
Each has its own rules about how voter registration information can be used by political parties, but the FCC says they cannot call cell phones without prior consent. However, no such rule applies to landlines. States also have individual rules about how voter registration information can be used once it is acquired by the political party. Some states allow voters to opt out of disclosing their phone number when political parties request voter registration lists, and there are programs that help keep voter registration information confidential.
Wendy Underhill, director of the Elections and Redistricting program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said it is not required to put your phone number on voter registration forms and suggests to not fill it in.
“The lists are available to specific parties – and in some states, to anybody. And once they’ve got that list for a purpose that should be defined by law, then it’s a little hard to make sure that it stays just with that one person,” said Underhill. “It is hard when you have a legitimate purpose for having voter registration lists shared to ensure it won’t fall into the hands of someone who will use it for non-nefarious purposes, like commercial purposes.”
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4. Stop entering into contests and sweepstakes
Flashy contests and sweepstakes sound great in theory, but selling your information is a high price to pay when you might not get anything in return. You almost always have to enter your email address, if not more, and this information goes to companies who may or may not actually be giving out a reward.
Even if the prize is something you absolutely cannot resist, it is better to not enter and have some control of how your information is shared. And let’s be real, how often do you actually win a car or a cruise anyway?
5. Beware of charities selling donor data
Although you might be doing a good deed, charities might be distributing your information to other parties after you’ve donated to them.
It’s not very charitable, but it happens. So be sure to check with charity organizations about how they share your information before you donate to their cause. The Federal Trade Commission also has tips and tools to help you give to charity without giving away your information.
Follow USA Today’s Madeline Purdue on Twitter: @madelinepurdue.