Consumer Alert

Hang up on Interest Rate and Car Warranty Robo-Calls

Have you received a call from an "unknown number" with a pre-recorded message offering to reduce your credit card interest rates or to sell you an auto warranty?  If so, you are not alone.  Consumer organizations have received thousands of complaints about these "robo-calls" -- computer-dialed calls often using a fake or "spoofed" caller ID number.  The calls involve a pre-recorded sales pitch with instructions to press a number to speak with a salesperson. Because the computer may be dialing from a sequential list of numbers, call recipients may not even own a car or have credit card debt.  

Consumers report that when they try to speak to a "live" person to tell them they aren't interested, or to advise they are on the Do Not Call registry, they are hung up on, or worse, subjected to rude comments.  And the calls keep coming!  Some consumers report getting five or six calls each day. 

The scope of the robo-call problem is illustrated by details from a recent lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission.  The FTC sued Transcontinental Warranty, a seller of auto warranties, and Voice Touch, a telemarketing company.  The companies robo-called every phone number within a particular area code and prefix.  One of the defendants claimed that he made 1.8 million dials per day and that he had done more than $40 million worth of dialing for extended warranty companies.   He also bragged that he could operate outside the law without getting caught.  According to the FTC, five telephone numbers associated with these companies generated 30,000 Do Not Call complaints.  For more information about the FTC case, see FTC Files Suit to Stop Illegal Robocalls Pushing Vehicle "Warranty" Extensions

Another common robo-call involves a pitch for reducing credit card interest rates.  The message might hook you with claims like, "There are problems with your account," or "It is urgent that you contact us concerning your eligibility for lowering your interest rates to as little as 6.9%."  Only after the consumer reveals account information does the caller disclose the cost of the service and that the caller is not a credit card company, but a separate "card services" company.  The "card services" pitch costs consumers money, wasted cell phone minutes, and lost time.  Consumers end up spending hundreds of dollars for a service that they may well be able to accomplish themselves for free by calling their credit card companies and negotiating directly for an interest rate reduction. 

So what can you do about these annoying calls?  Here are some suggestions from the Consumer Protection Unit:

  1. Immediately hang up on robo-calls.  Don't press any numbers for additional information, and don't speak with a salesperson.  These calls usually violate the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule and violate Alaska's ban on automated messages and the Telephonic Sales Act.  Why waste your time with a caller who won't comply with the law?
  2. Never reveal any personal or financial information to someone over the phone unless you are absolutely sure of their identity and affiliation.
  3. To get information about who might be calling you, try typing the number into Google or another search engine.  You will see that there are a number of websites where consumers enter information about who's calling and about the nature of calls from a particular phone number. 

  4. Add your telephone number to the Federal Do-Not-Call List by visiting www.donotcall.gov.  If you receive unwanted calls, you should report them to the FTC or the Attorney General's Office.
  5. Report illegal robo-calls to the FTC. To request a consumer complaint form from the Attorney General's Office, call the Consumer Protection Unit at (907) 269-5200 or toll free at (877) 576-2529.

Consumer Protection Unit
July 2009