Once upon a time, being on the Do Not Call list meant that marketers Did Not Call. And when caller ID flashed an 850 area code, it was probably a good idea to answer it because it was likely someone you knew, or a legitimate local business call.

There were always scams, of course -- there just weren't so darn many of them.

Federal regulators say the volume of scam calls is on the rise, a message underscored by a recent news release from the Florida Supreme Court warning residents to beware of a new rash of calls claiming to be from court officials. Many scammers work out of overseas fraud mills that "spoof" caller ID to make their internet-based calls look local -- new technology such as auto-dialers makes it easy to target many more victims, increasing the number of people caught in a web of fraud. The Federal Trade Commission says that by 2016, the volume of fraudulent pitches and robo-calls had hit 2.4 billion a month.

Federal regulators and phone companies are working feverishly on ways to nip the latest scams in the bud. But the current surge only underscores grim reality: As regulations shift to meet current threats, innovative crooks will be scheming up new ways to separate marks from their money. In the end, the best defense Americans have is common sense, skepticism and a sense of responsibility for their own protection.

For starters, that means keeping abreast of the latest tricks. Some scams are easy to spot -- like pitches to refinance student loans, lighting up the phones of people who don't have such loans outstanding. These are irritating, but best ignored. Responding to a scam only flags the number as belonging to a real person, and is likely to bring more calls or texts.

Others seem more legitimate -- stern, assured-sounding voices claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, emails that look just like ones from your own bank. Again, the best defense is healthy skepticism and caution. Clicking on email links that ask for sensitive financial data, or installing software to let a dubious "tech support" person into your computer, is never a good idea.

It is also good to know that governmental agencies and telecommunications companies are working to combat scams. The Federal Communications Commission is giving carriers more advanced weapons to filter rip-off calls. As of March, cell phone companies have increased power to block numbers with a pattern of suspicious calls. In the meantime, a number of cell phone apps have sprung up that promise to block robo-calls and other frauds. And regulators across an alphabet soup of agencies are doing their best to catch and punish fraudmongers.

But it's increasingly clear that government will never be able to protect Americans from the scams -- at least, not nearly as well as Americans can protect themselves.

— The Northwest Florida Daily News