July 24, 2019 Practice Points

Tips for Tracking Down and Pursuing Robocallers and Spam Texters

We can all agree that these calls and texts are annoying. But, is there any way to fight back?

By Christopher E. Roberts

Your cell phone rings unexpectedly and then buzzes, telling you have an incoming text message.

Is it an important call or text or a family emergency? No.

It’s a call or text about the next best insurance you do not need or did not request information about. It’s a call or text about the next best home security system. Or, maybe it’s a text message about a loan for which you never applied and for which you have been magically approved.

Many of us have received these calls and texts. And we can all agree that these calls and texts are annoying. But, is there any way to fight back? The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) provides a potential penalty of $500 per call or text (up to $1,500) that violates the requirements of the act.

While many of these calls and texts likely violate the TCPA, the two questions I am most frequently asked about these unsolicited calls and texts are: “How do I figure out who is behind the call or text?” and “How do I figure out if the company behind the call or text is worth pursuing?”

The answer is: Investigate, investigate, investigate. This article provides a couple of easy and free methods that you, a client, or a potential client can use to possibly obtain useful information about the company behind the call or text.

Try to connect to a live representative. Useful information can be obtained from speaking with a live representative. Answering the call or calling the number back (assuming it is a real number) and acting interested in what the caller is selling can go a long way. Obtaining the company’s name, the company’s location, and the company’s website can be incredibly useful. If the representative refuses to provide a website or cannot tell you where the business is located, it usually signifies that the call is a scam or associated with a fly-by-night company. Those types of calls are not usually worth pursuing.

Asking for the representative to send you an email so you can follow up later can also provide additional useful information. Sometimes the representative’s signature block identifies an additional company, website, and contact information to investigate.

Research the phone number. Researching the phone number that shows up on your caller ID for the call or text can be difficult. Sometime the phone number is spoofed. This means the caller ID displays a number (frequently with a local area code) to disguise the real number of the caller. Spoofed calls are nearly impossible to track.

However, I always recommend running a Google search on the phone number. Sometimes other people will have complained about the number and have connected the number to a company. Other times you will directly find the name of the company associated with the call. If the text message is from a five-digit short code, resources such as the U.S. Short Code Directory can sometimes help you find who is behind the text message.

Research the website. If you are able to obtain a website from the caller, you may be able to obtain valuable information about who is behind the call. Ownership information about the website can be obtained by performing a search at the ICANN registration website. The ICANN (The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) website provides potentially useful information including various contact information for the website’s registrant.

Google is another incredibly useful tool to help research who is behind the website. Simply perform a Google search in quotes of the name of the website. For example, if you identified a website associated with the caller or texter as www.xyz.com you simply search the website’s name on Google in quotations (“www.xyz.com”). This allows you to possibly find names of people associated with the company, comments about the company by other people, or social media pages connected to the site. These are also additional sources of information that can be useful to figure out who is behind a call and whether they are worth pursuing.

Is the company worth pursuing? Once you have tracked down the company behind the calls or texts, the most important issue becomes whether the company is worth pursuing. Again, free internet resources can provide invaluable information.

LinkedIn is a resource that can provide a significant amount of useful information. Running a Google search for the company name in quotes and typing “LinkedIn” in separate quotes (“company name” and “LinkedIn”) can identify employees of the company, the number of employees of the company and potentially information about the success of the company. Looking at the profiles of the employees can help you identify witnesses later for your case and possibly provide valuable information about how the company places its calls or texts.

Google can also be useful to identify the financial condition and size of the company. Running a search for “[company name]” and “revenue” oftentimes provides financial information about the company.

Ultimately, many of the annoying calls or texts we receive are scams or are from fly-by-night companies. However, spending a little time to quickly investigate these calls and texts could help you, your client, or a potential client fight back against these calls.

Christopher E. Roberts is a partner at Butsch Roberts & Associates LLC in St. Louis, Missouri.


Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).