A rash of unwanted and deceptive robocalls to New Yorkers already on the Do Not Call Registry has resulted in a flood of frustration as fraudsters devise ever new ways to elude the law.
The scam artists are so clever "we can't find them," said Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side).
Some of the calls appear to be coming from outside the U.S. and from entities that are exceedingly difficult to trace, she said. After Rosenthal wearied of robo calls to her own home and cell phone, she wrote about the phenomenon in her January newsletter.
At least 50 constituents contacted her to complain. It costs robo callers so little to make automated calls it appears "they've decided to go ahead and market hoping they won't be caught and prosecuted," she said.
The state Assembly recently passed legislation making it illegal to use a fraudulent caller ID with the intent to defraud or harass people (it's awaiting passage by the senate), Rosenthal said.
The automated sales calls often offer ways to "save" money on your mortgage, credit cards, electric bills or health insurance, but are almost always fraudulent, said Mitch Katz, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC, which has 207 million numbers in its Do Not Call Registry, receives a million complaints a year about unwelcome calls, he added.
One of the most frequent and annoying sources of interruptions locally appears to be from an "ESCO" (energy services company), said a source familiar with the problem.
Sherrin Hersch, 81, receives calls telling her she may be able to save money on her electrical bill several times a day. The recorded voice mentions Con Edison and announces, "you may be eligible for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,'" recounted Hersch, who lives on the Upper West Side. "I'm pretty savvy, but I worry about people who aren't and might give out their personal information," she said.
"These calls are not coming from us and we do not provide customer information to outside parties," said Con Ed spokesman Allan Drury. Con Ed recommends complaining to the Public Service Commission at 1-800-342-3377 -- but consumers who call that number get a recorded message telling them to notify their "service provider."
A law was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year that prohibited robo calls (with the exception of calls from elected officials and those running for office). It required telemarketers to register with the state and to allow call recipients to be included in company "do not call lists." But Hersch and other victims said that when they followed prompts to speak to a person to be asked to be removed from a list, or to discover who was calling, the line abruptly went dead.
What to do if you're getting fraudulent calls? Here are some tips from the FTC.
-- Register at the Do Not Call Registry: Register now at donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register.
-- If possible, transcribe the number shown on your caller ID. You can file a complaint at donotcall.gov
-- If you get an unwelcome robo call, hang up immediately. Do not press a number to speak to an operator.
-- Ask your service provider if you can get offending numbers blocked without being charged a fee. Robo callers change numbers frequently, so don't spend money blocking them.