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What to do if you’re getting spam, robocalls: ‘I know how annoying it is’

RICHMOND, Va. -- If you are one of the thousands of Virginians who silence their cell phones because of unwanted spam or robocalls, and feel the problem has gotten worse over the past few years, data backs you up.

Complaints about unwanted calls in Virginia have more than doubled in the past four years, according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) statistics. 

Accordingly, some Virginians are taking any step they can to stop the annoying buzz of a telemarketer.

Chris Fullman, a web designer living in Richmond, has kept the same personal cellphone number for 21 years.  It's a source of pride for Fullman, but also frustration because of the amount and frequency of spam calls he receives.

"Up to about 10 calls a day.  Sometimes it was eight calls a minute from one specific number," Fullman said.  "Anything from straight up scams to just trying to get your business."

The flood of spam and robocalls are all the more maddening because of the steps Fullman said he has taken to prevent them.

"You think of the 'Do Not Call' list, and I'm on it.  I've been on it since 2003, I think, and they just keep calling," Fullman said.

Spam call complaints in Virginia

Spam call complaints in Virginia

In 2017, the FTC received 232, 818 complaints about violations of the "Do Not Call" list from Virginia residents, which ranks fourth nationally.  The number of complaints has spiked as of late. In fact, the number of complaints to the FTC more than doubled from 2015 to 2017.

People with the "804" area code lodged the third highest total of complaints statewide.

Virginia area codes with the most complaints.

Virginia area codes with the most complaints.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said his office regularly receives complaints -- and even his personal cell phone is bombarded with spam calls.

"I get the same call, I think it's from New Brunswick, New Jersey, every single day," Herring said.  "I'm the Attorney General [and] even I get them. I know how annoying it is."

The OAG's Consumer Protection unit has a couple theories for why the amount of unwanted calls, especially to cellphone numbers, have spiked in the past few years.

Increasingly sophisticated internet technology allows legitimate companies and spammers across the globe to mine the internet for consumer data, which can include cell phone numbers, according to Herring.  Data breaches and filling out forms online can make your cellphone number accessible to telemarketers and scammers, only underscoring the importance of reviewing privacy policies when submitting your personal information over the internet, Herring said.

"You go fishing where the fish are, which means those who are going to commit financial fraud, they're going to go after people with cell phones because that's what people are using," Herring said.

Spam callers also have ways of appearing more legitimate through a technique known as "spoofing" or "neighboring."  Callers are able to mask the number they are calling from and mimic the first few digits of your phone number to make it more likely you will pick it up.

"Some of these callers now have more information about you. They have information they may have gotten from social media that make it sound like they know who you are," Herring said.

Whether it is a telemarketer, spammer, or robocall, there are steps you should take if you receive an unwanted call, according to the FTC:

  • Do not pick up the phone, and if you do, hang up immediately
  • Do not press any numbers if you are prompted
  • Contact your service provider about the unwanted call
  • Report the number to the FTC or the Virginia OAG's Consumer Protection Unit
What to do if you receive unwanted call

What to do if you receive unwanted call

Chris Fullman has downloaded several apps and programs on his phone that either screen or block unwanted calls.  Most, but not all, service providers offer a spam call filtering program.

While he does not let the annoying calls get in the way of his business or personal life, Fullman said he does not see a clean "missed call" list any time soon.

"With any type of legitimate tool for communication or marketing, there's always going to be people that try to take advantage of it for not the greatest cases," Fullman said.  "Report these numbers.  The more reports they get, they'll see it’s a growing problem and that they might need to act."

In June, the FTC filed a lawsuit against two companies who allegedly made billions of illegal robocalls over the course of several years.  The FTC noted the first step in opening investigations like it is multiple complaints from consumers.

You can register your home or mobile number for free through the National Do Not Call registry either online or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register.

You can report spam or robocalls directly to the FTC; just click here.

For more information on apps that can block or screen robocalls, click here.  Officials write the app that works best for you depends on your phone's operating system, so it is important to do your research before downloading a call blocking application.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also works to crackdown on illegal spam and robocalls.  You can read more about the rules that govern marketing calls and what actions the FCC is taking by clicking here.

Under the Virginia Telephone Protection Act, companies are not allowed to initiate a solicitation call to a number on the National Do Not Call registry.  Herring said if any Virginian feels they have been unfairly targeted by solicitors, they should write down the number the call came from, the name of the business if it is given, and then report the incident to the OAG Consumer Protection Unit.

Watch for more Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays and Wednesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.

Problem Solvers Investigations – Tuesdays and Wednesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.

Problem Solvers Investigations – Tuesdays and Wednesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.