November 22, 2019



We all get them. Those #$%& robocalls with an important message about our long-paid-off student loans, credit card offers, unpaid taxes, or great solar panel deals. With more of them spoofing local area codes and exchanges (the first three digits of your phone number) lately, I don’t even answer anymore unless I recognize the number on my caller ID. I’m sure you do the same. My new iPhone is even highlighting certain calls as SPAM, rather than an actual phone number. Back in the “good old days,” telemarketers were bad enough. But when there’s a robotic voice on the other end, the interruptions are even more annoying.

Even if you join the Do Not Call registry, calls from scammers and overseas numbers still seem to get through. And for every phone number you block, the telemarketers come up with a new one to get through to you. In October, Americans received a record number of robocalls, averaging more than 17 per person – a 25% leap from the month before, according to YouMail, a robocall-blocking app. Among the robocalls, 47% were tied to scams, the app found.

The Federal Trade Commission is trying to crack down on these nuisance calls and authorized phone companies to block them in May. Congress is also working on bipartisan legislation called the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act (short for Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) that will permit phone companies to verify calls and allow more robust robocall blocking.

Some industries, like debt collectors, have protested the blocking of robocalls – and they may have some valid points to raise – but I think these measures will be good for business overall. As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of automation, but not when it’s used to harass people 24/7. Businesses need to be able to get through to customers when they have a legitimate need to reach them. They won’t be able to do that if everyone refuses to answer their phones to avoid annoyance calls.

Our reticence to answer is surely a challenge for charitable organizations this time of year especially when they ordinarily would hope to spike holiday giving through phone solicitation. As annoying as even these legitimate calls can be, they must work, because the charities keep calling. I am sure robocall-itis is scaring off even the most loyal donors who might otherwise agree to a phone pledge to their favorite charity or two. Even if we do pick up, how do we know the person on the other end is not a sophisticated scammer? When in doubt, call the charity directly or go online. Better safe than sorry.

The telecom industry is moving ahead with “call authentication” technology that will make it easier to verify the identity of callers. If it works as intended, we’ll all be able to have more confidence that callers are using phone numbers that really belong to them. Some telecom companies have already introduced apps that help you to identify spam calls before you pick up. If you’re not using one yet, you can call your provider to ask about it.

While we’re on the subject, if you get a random call from someone who claims to be from the IRS, rest assured it’s not Uncle Sam. The IRS does not ever communicate with taxpayers by phone. Remind your parents and your (adult) children of this. You’d be surprised how even smart, sophisticated people who should know better can get sucked into a scam. Should you ever receive one of these calls, just hang up and then notify your Marcum professional.

Hopefully, the authorities will be able to figure out a way to shut down the robocallers eventually, or at least slow them down. In the meantime, we can all be grateful that robodrones are not knocking the door to sell us aluminum siding – at least not yet.

P.S. As a reminder, all Marcum offices will be closed Wednesday for our annual Day of Service – a paid philanthropy day for Marcum staff. I will be participating this year with our NYC office at the Carter Burden Network (City Meals) in East Harlem. And my daughters Lily (10) & Kate (8) will be volunteering as well as part of the Marcum team. It’s never too early to teach them the tradition of giving back and the realization that everyone doesn’t live in the same bubble we do and in fact are in need of many of the daily staples we take for granted. This column will be on holiday break next Friday and will return on December 6. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everybody – enjoy your families and friends and remember those in need.