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Consumers continue to be targets of robocalls, local law enforcement warns of rise on scam calls

An anti-robocall measure was signed into law at the end of 2019, but consumers and businesses continue to be targets, with calls ranging from discount insurance offers to fake alerts about a bank account or credit card being compromised.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Tricia Pruitt, a regional vice president with the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama, whose area includes Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties. “Most of the calls we receive from consumers are about some type of robocall.”

The Federal Trade Commission received more than 2.1 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020, with imposter scams remaining the most common type of fraud reported to the agency. Most of those scams are through robocalls, according to Pruitt.

“As the FTC statistics show, the phone has become the top way the scam artists reach their potential victims,” Pruitt said. “There are many days that is the top call I receive. People that call me are fed up with the number of calls they receive every day.”

Consumer advocates advise hanging up on scam callers, reporting the calls and requesting service providers block unwanted calls.

Pruitt said that the auto warranty scam is “the one we hear the most about.”

The auto-warranty robocalls were the top unwanted call complaint filed by consumers with the Federal Communications Commission last year, and the trend continued this year. The caller, posing as a representative of a car dealer, manufacturer or insurer, claims that an auto warranty or insurance is about to expire and pitches renewing a warranty or policy. During the call — which often begins automated or pre-recorded — people may be instructed to press a certain number or stay on the line, then asked to provide personal information, which potentially can be used to defraud them.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act was signed into law by former President Donald Trump in late December 2019, giving authorities more enforcement powers against robocall scams. When phone companies block robocalls, they must do so without charging consumers.

There are also scammers who purport to be from government agencies or law enforcement.

Several law enforcement agencies have been sounding the warning that scammers have been hitting the phone lines hot and heavy over the past couple of weeks.

“Residents have reported that they have received telephone calls from someone claiming to be law enforcement. The caller tells them they have an active arrest warrant and must relinquish funds to avoid legal repercussions or arrest,” said Madison Police Community Relations Officer Teresa Taylor-Duncan. “The caller sometimes already knows the name and address of the intended victim. Madison residents have received calls today from local and surrounding area codes.”

Huntsville Police and local sheriff’s departments have issued similar warnings.

“We would like to remind everyone that government agencies will not telephone people threatening arrest if they don’t make payment. Law Enforcement will also not telephone people advising them they have a warrant for their arrest demanding payment,” Officer Taylor-Duncan added.

She advised residents to disconnect from the caller if they are targeted and notify local law enforcement by calling 256-722-7190.

The FTC warns against pressing any numbers if an unwanted call is received. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls instead.

Pruitt suggests registering a landline or cellphone number with the National Do Not Call Registry by visiting www.donotcall.gov or calling 888-382-1222 and also using call-blocking services available through phone providers. An unwanted call can also be reported to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

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