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Being smarter in 2020: How to deal with robocalls and phone scams

Robocalls are illegal unless you have given that company written permission to call you that way.

The Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies will never call you unless you have asked them to do so.

These federal government agencies do not call people to make threats if they believe you have broken the law. They will send you a letter if your taxes are in arrears or they need information, but they will never suspend your social security number.

If you have committed an illegal act, depending on how egregious your lawbreaking was, law enforcement personnel will show up at your home. They won’t call you and give you a chance to run.

Any calls in which you are told you may clear up a legal problem by buying gift cards and sending them to an address given in the call are scams. Police and other government agencies do not accept gift cards to pay tickets or any other debt.

Hang up on these calls and report the number to the Federal Trade Commission. Instructions are near the end of this article.

To get on the “Do Not Call” list

Online: Go to and submit your number.

By phone: 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236)

Numbers on the Do Not Call registry do not expire; however, it can take a month before your number has been disseminated to all telemarketers that follow the law.


Robocalls are illegal unless you have given that company written permission to call you that way. Your pharmacy might get your permission for a robocall to tell you your prescription is ready and you may not even realize you gave such permission. But most other robocalls are illegal.

There are legal robocalls. Those are robocalls for purely informational purposes, political calls or charity calls. If they then try to sell you something, they become illegal robocalls.

If you get a robocall you believe is illegal, hang up. Do not press a number. Make note of the number and the time and date you received the call and report the call to the FTC.

You can also block numbers on your cellphone after you’ve decided they are spam. Then you won’t receive calls from that number. Unfortunately, spammers and scammers use many different numbers, so blocking will be of limited help.

Calls from “Spoofed” numbers

If you get unwanted sales or robocalls from numbers that appear to be local, you should report them to the FTC. Even if the call appeared to come from the real phone number of a friend, you should report it. You will not get your friend in trouble. The FTC has the ability to figure out that someone else was using the number illegally.

Reporting calls to the FTC

You may report unwanted calls and illegal robocalls after you have been on the “do not call” registry for 31 days. Calls that are legal are those from charities, political organizations and telephone surveyors.

To report a call:

Note the time and date of the call, the phone number it appears to be from and the subject of the call.

Go to (the FTC wants complaints online, not by phone), decide what kind of illegal call you received and fill out the online form. A support team can help via chat if you have problems. You can even report fraudulent emails here.

You can call the “Do Not Call” registry to file a complaint as well: 1-888-382-1222.

Contact Johanna Eubank at

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Online producer

Johanna Eubank is a digital producer for the Arizona Daily Star and She has been with the Star in various capacities since 1991.

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