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Ask Us: How can people stop unwanted telemarketers, robocalls?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

There’s a major obstacle for local law enforcement when faced with complaints about telemarkers and robocalls: it’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to determine the true identity and location of the person making the calls.

Multiple readers asked about the legality of telemarketer calls and robocalls as well as what people can do to stop receiving them. Maj. John Sifford, of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, said cracking down on the nuisances is tough for local law enforcement.

“Most all of the robocalls and spoof area code calls received are from another state, or in many cases are from another country, so they are not in our jurisdiction that would allow us to take any criminal action,” Sifford said.

But, even if the caller is in the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office — Rowan County — or local police departments,  Sifford said, “It is nearly impossible to prosecute someone unless you can prove they are in fact the one who made the phone call.”

The Federal Trade Commission says a robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless the company has 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,” the Federal Trade Commission says. “If you give permission, you have the right to change your mind later.”

Robocalls that are allowed without permission include those that are purely informational, including emergency alerts or school delays or cancellations; from debt collectors; from political groups; from health care providers, including a pharmacy reminding you to refill a prescription; and messages from charities.

Sifford said people unfamiliar with a number calling can opt the let it go to voicemail because telemarketers and robocalls usually do not leave a message. All people should avoid answering any questions, particularly about personal information, Sifford said.

People can also sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, which is managed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. It was created to stop unwanted sales calls, and it’s free to register a home or cellphone number by visiting donotcall.gov. Signing up for the registry only requires the phone numbers you wish to add and an email address.

After signing up for the Do Not Call Registry, however, many of the remaining telemarketers who do call “are probably out to scam you,” states a webpage created by the N.C. Department of Justice offering tips about telemarketers. Any telemarketers and robocalls who continue to call after people sign up for the Do Not Call Registry can be reported to the N.C. Department of Justice at ncdoj.gov/report-robocalls/ or by calling 844-8-NO-ROBO.

After your number is on the Do Not Call Registry for 31 days, you also can report unwanted sales calls at donotcall.gov.

Once reported, the N.C. Department of Justice says it can share numbers with federal law enforcement, conduct state investigation and provide the numbers to the telecom industry so they can investigate calls, too, and help law enforcement with locating the callers.

“Telemarketing con artists are creative, coming up with new tricks every day to scam unsuspecting North Carolina residents. The callers prey on anyone who answers a phone, but especially seniors and others who have responded to phony sweepstakes or other scams before,” the N.C. Department of Justice states on its webpage for telemarketing and robocalls. “These examples of scams we know have been successful for fraudulent telemarketers give you an idea of the tricks they play.”

To avoid telemarketing scams, the N.C. Department of Justice offers the following tips:

• You never have to make a purchase or pay taxes, fees or other expenses in advance to receive a prize.

• Never make an advance payment for a loan or credit card.

• Telemarketers who pitch lottery tickets over the phone are trying to cheat you.

• Never give your bank account, credit card or Social Security number to someone you don’t know who calls you on the phone.

• Unless you are familiar with the company, do not respond to mailings and email messages concerning sweepstakes or lottery prizes.

• Be especially vigilant about seniors who suffer from early stage Alzheimer’s Disease, other forms of memory loss or depression.

• Telephone con artists will send you checks to cover taxes or fees on your prize or award. They direct you to deposit the check in your bank account and then wire them cash. The check may look real enough to fool your bank, but it is a counterfeit check and the money you wire will end up coming out of your own funds.

• Crooks frequently use reloadable debit cards like Green Dot MoneyPaks as a method to get money from victims. Once money has been loaded onto the card, the scammer gets the card’s account number from the victim and quickly empties the account through an electronic transaction that can’t be traced.

• Frequent trips to Western Union or Moneygram or frequent pick-ups by overnight courier services can be signs that someone is a victim of telemarketing fraud. Once a fraudulent telemarketer discovers a victim, that victim’s name will be sold to hundreds of other scammers.

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