Protecting people from illegal robocalls
September 16th, 2015 | by Google Public Policy Blog | published in Google Public Policy
You’re eating dinner with your family when the phone rings, and you see a phone number that you don’t recognize. You answer and hear a recording: “It’s extremely urgent that we speak to the business owner! We’ve tried to reach you numerous times. Our records indicate that your Google Business Listing has not been claimed…”
This is a common type of robocall, or automated phone call that delivers a pre-recorded message to sell or market services. Some, like informational notices from a doctor’s office, airline or pharmacy, can be useful and are allowed by law. Many others, however, are both useless and illegal in the United States. As the FTC explains: “if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal.”
Robocallers have targeted Google users for many years. Callers commonly bombard recipients—usually small business owners or individuals—with misleading offers and promotions for improving Google Search and AdWords rankings, or to improve their Google My Business profile. Since the beginning of 2015, we’ve received hundreds of complaints from users about robocalls they’ve received from businesses claiming to be affiliated with Google.
These illegal calls are a huge nuisance, cause small businesses and Google users to unnecessarily worry, and can lead to rip-offs. Illegal robocalls never have, and never will, come from Google.
Unfortunately, this is part of a much larger issue that extends beyond just Google users and customers. The FCC received 215,000 complaints about robocalls in 2014, the FTC gets approximately 150,000 complaints about them every month and says it has brought more than 100 lawsuits against more than 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls, to date. Robocallers impersonate many different companies, and have even impersonated the local police, the IRS, and the FTC itself.
If you receive illegal robocalls, here are a few things you can do right now to protect yourself:
- Report callers to Google, and also the FTC or the FCC.
- Hang up the phone. Do not press any key, even if the voice recording prompts you to in order to speak with a live person or to be taken off the call list.
- Contact your phone company to see if they can block calls from any numbers.
- Register your personal number with the National Do Not Call Registry at: https://www.donotcall.gov/register/reg.aspx or call 1-888-382-1222.
It’s difficult for Google to take action against callers because they often use untraceable phone numbers, fake company names, and massive global networks of intermediaries. However, today we’re filing an action in California against one search engine optimization company for making these robocalls and confusing our users. It’s unfortunate when a problem must be addressed in a court of law, but we believe this course of action will protect our users and discourage this practice more broadly.
Running a small business is hard work under the best of circumstances. Dealing with illegal robocallers isn’t just a waste of time, it can result in wasted resources and significant damage to your business. We hope these tips, and shining a light on the issue, will help discourage and eventually eliminate this practice.
Update July 11, 2016: The search engine optimization company that we took legal action against has now agreed to stop making these calls, which is a great outcome for consumers: fewer misleading calls and interrupted meals!