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Millions of unwanted calls hitting Hoosier cell phones every month, with no end in sight

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A CBS4 Problem Solvers investigation into the rise in unwanted calls to your cell phone found that Indiana has become a hot spot for scammers, and the Do Not Call list doesn't protect you from them.

Jeff Kelso, a double amputee who depends on calls from his doctor, said calls from unknown numbers have forced him to stop answering his phone altogether.

"(I get) at least five, six a week," Kelso said. "They come from every area code in the book."

Kelso isn't alone. Last year, the Indiana Attorney General's Office received 5,000 complaints about unwanted calls and texts. 70 percent of those complaints were about robocalls, and the people calling saw almost no repercussions: the state took action in only four of the 2018 cases, making up less than one percent of complaints.

Director of Consumer Protection Betsy DeNardi said the low rate of action is due largely to the fact that most robocalls, if they can be traced at all, turn out to be coming from outside the United States.

"We don't have jurisdiction over them, so we can't go after those individiuals and pursue them," DeNardi said.

Indiana is one of the only states with its own Do Not Call Registry, run by DeNardi's office. She said that while signing up for the list is still beneficial, it won't stop the calls completely.

"It doesn't mean people who are scammers and people who are criminals are going to follow the law (and stop calling)," DeNardi said.

Her advice is simple: do what Kelso does and stop answering the phone if you don't recognize the number. Even if it's coming from a local area code, scammers can easily spoof a phone number to try to get you to pick up the phone. DeNardi said that if you answer, the scammers know there's a person on the other end of the line, which could cause them to keep calling.

If you want to fight back, one way could be to download an app like RoboKiller. Developed as part of a competition put on by the federal government to combat robocalls, the app will spot likely robocalls, answer them for you, and try to keep a scammer on the line using what it calls "answer bots," recordings meant to make them think they're talking to a real person.

"They’re really funny and they’re designed to just keep these people engaged and to waste their time, and sometimes we keep them on the phone for an hour," RoboKiller Vice President Ethan Garr said.

According to RoboKiller's data, between July and December last year, the 765 area code received an average of more than 9.5 million robocalls per month. For the 812 area code, that number was 11.5 million per month, and in the 317 area code robocalls averaged a whopping 23 million a month.

"On average, every American who has a phone is getting about 19 calls a month. Where you guys are, in the Indianapolis area, it’s even worse," Garr said.

Garr said the app, which does cost a monthly fee, aims to keep scammers on the phone as long as possible, to waste their time and cut into their profits.

"This is your phone. You paid for it, and yet you’ve lost control of it ," Garr said.

It certainly feels that way to Kelso, who said he finds himself constantly questioning whether his phone is ringing for the right or wrong reason.

"They're relentless," Kelso said. "I don't think there is anything you can do to stop it."

CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to the major cell phone carriers to find out what they're doing to stop it for you. An AT&T spokesperson pointed us to this page on their website, which provides information for customers, including how to download the free AT&T Call Protect app.

A Verizon spokesperson also pointed us to a page on their website with more information. They also sent this statement:

"Verizon fully understands that annoying and intrusive robocalls are a persistent problem that impacts millions of Americans. And our company has been a leader in working aggressively to try and stop them.

Currently it's not illegal to spoof another person's phone number but we believe it should be and we support federal legislation that would go after the spammers that are making these calls.

For our wireless customers, Verizon continues to expand on spam identification and control features. In fact, more than a year ago, we added call and spam screening at no additional charge to wireless customers subscribing to our Call Filter service (formerly Caller Name ID). That service provides caller ID information and an innovative risk meter that displays the level of spam risk associated with a call. If a call meets Verizon’s spam criteria, the incoming call screen will display a spam label.

Verizon also offers free alerts about potential spam calls to customers with a limited number of Android phones. And in March, it will begin rolling out free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of our customers whose smartphones support these features.

In addition, Verizon continues work to deploy the STIR/SHAKEN authentication standard in our networks. This would verify to end users that the number displayed on the Caller ID is the number that originated the call.

We fully understand that this is a persistent problem that impacts millions of Americans. We are committed to working with the industry, the government and others on ways to stop robocalls. This is something that our customers demand and deserve, and Verizon is committed to stopping the bad actors from continually disturbing our customers."

For information about the RoboKiller app and how to download it, you can go to the link here. You can also read mixed reviews before you decide whether to get the app on the company's Facebook page at the link here. To add your number to Indiana's Do Not Call List, click this link. You can also add your number to the federal registry at this link.

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