Robocalls are quite simply the most annoying modern tech drawback for many people. You know what they are. These are the unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls to landlines and wireless phones that seem to strike at the most inconvenient times.
Telemarketing calls are certainly nothing new, annoying us for decades but now. Aside from trying to sell you stuff, robocalls can be downright deceptive and malicious. Robocall scams are actually trying to rip you off or steal your identity.
This is why the rising number of robocall complaints is alarming. It's a plague that the world can do without. But is relief in sight? If anything, the robocall problem is just getting worse each year.
Robocall numbers are still surging
According to statistics from robocall blocking service YouMail, Americans were bombarded with around 24.3 billion robocalls in the first seven months of 2018 alone. This is a significant 41.3% increase from the 17.2 billion robocalls received in the first seven months of 2017.
This means robocalls the U.S. have been almost doubling from year to year since 2009!
Although the numbers seem to fluctuate, YouMail estimates that the average of U.S robocalls made each is month is around 4 billion. Wow!
And there's no relief in sight. In fact, another spam filter company called First Orion Corporation is projecting that 44.56% of all calls in 2019 will be spam and robocalls. Yep, almost half of all the phone calls you will be getting next year will be a scam or a telemarketing call.
Why are robocalls taking over?
The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) has a pretty good idea why robocalls keep surging - a robocalling enterprise is relatively easy to set up!
With advancements in computer technology, especially with Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, cheap internet access and the available software tools like auto-dialers and Caller ID spoofing, anyone with just a small inkling of technical know-how can put up their own robocalling business.
With this accessibility and low overhead cost, illegal telemarketers can make increasingly higher volumes of calls inexpensively from anywhere while concealing their identities.
Additionally, robocallers may only pay a paltry fraction of a cent per minute, and that's only if the calls were actually picked up. No wonder these schemes are so lucrative.
The most notorious robocalls
According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are the top six spam call types reported by consumers:
- Reducing your debt (credit cards, mortgage, student loans)
- Dropped call or no message
- Vacation & timeshares
- Warranties & protection plans
- Calls pretending to be government, businesses, or family and friends
- Medical & prescriptions
One of the robocall techniques that's increasingly getting more popular is a scam called "neighborhood spoofing."
With this scam, fraudsters will disguise their numbers with local numbers that appear to match your area code and 3-digit prefix.
By spoofing a local number, these spammers are hoping that there's a better chance that their targets will pick up the call.
And neighborhood spoof calls don't just harm the intended targets, they are also a big hassle to the owner of the spoofed number.
If your number was ever used as a spoof call disguise, expect unexpected return calls from the spam victims. These return calls are annoying since the owner of the spoofed number is not aware that a spam call was ever made from their number.
Another problem with neighborhood spoofing? Third-party spam call blocking apps are mostly ineffective against spoofed numbers since they only tend to blacklist known robocall numbers and not legitimate numbers.
Remember, legitimate phone numbers can be hijacked and used for neighborhood spoofing.
What is the government doing about it?
So is the government doing anything about the robocall plague? Sure, there's the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the Do Not Call Registry, but obviously, these are not as effective as they should be.
The FTC regularly files multi-million lawsuits against suspected robocallers, but since these outfits seem to be multiplying, taking a few of them down will only allow others to take their place.
The Federal Communications Commission (FTC), on the other hand, also imposes multi-million fines against individual robocallers, but again, this is not nearly enough to take down the entire industry.
What if carriers started blocking spoofed numbers?
Late last year, a handful of trade groups, companies and government agencies also teamed up to try and put an end to these scams.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai has made the fight against robocalls a top priority. He said the key to winning the battle is putting an end to caller ID spoofing. In fact, Pai has recently sent out a letter to over a dozen US phone carriers urging them to finally deploy a system to stop nuisance calls.
Here's the plan. When it comes to phone numbers, there are a series of them that are never assigned to anyone. Fraudsters sometimes spoof these unassigned numbers to make robocalls.
When a call originates with one of these spoofed numbers and shows up on caller ID, the phone company knows it's not legitimate.
If there's some sort of "call authentication" on the carrier level that will validate each call, then theoretically all spoofed numbers will be blocked. Well, that's the idea, anyway.
In the meantime, here's how to protect yourself from robocalls:
With scams and robocalls on the rise, you need to know how to deal with them. Here are some suggestions:
- Use call blockers - Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage your provider to offer one. You can also visit the FCC's website for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls. (Click here to learn how to block specific phone numbers.)
- Get call blocking apps - You can also download and install call blocking apps such as NomoRobo, True Caller or Hiya on your smartphone. Click here for more information about these types of apps.
- Block unknown callers - Many phone companies allow you to block calls that don't show a number on caller ID. Check with your provider to find out how to turn this feature on. Note: If someone you actually know calls you and blocks their outgoing number, their call won't make it through if you've turned this feature on.
- Don't answer - This is actually the easiest solution to eliminating robocalls. If you receive a call from an unknown number or one that doesn't show up on caller ID, don't answer. If it's an important call, the person will leave a message and you can get back to them.
- Subscribe to the Do Not Call Registry - This move will stop many robocalls before they begin. If you're on the registry, it's illegal for many robocallers to call you. Click here to get your number into the National Do Not Call Registry. After your number is on the registry for 31 days, you can report unwanted sales calls.
- Hang up - If you answer the phone and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify and target live respondents. Once they know the number is active, you will receive more calls in the future.
Taking the steps in this article will help cut back the number of robocalls that you receive. It could save you from falling victim to a scammer.
For even more insights on robocalls, listen to free Komando On Demand podcast on the subject:
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