NBC News reports that robocalls are at an all-time high, with some people receiving as many as six calls a day from automated callers. At some point over the last few years, you’ve probably felt your phone buzz and pulled it out of your pocket, only to find an unsaved number calling from some city you’ve never been to. If you’re curious enough to answer, you’ll find the voice on the line to be a recorded message trying to sell you something, warn you of an expiring warranty you don’t have, or offering some sort of debt relief.
From February to July, robocalls in America increased by 50 percent, with automated and telemarketer calls being the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission for the past two years.
Robo-calls can be more than just a nuisance, serving valuable purposes like reminding us of upcoming appointments. But they can also be directly harmful. For example, about 30 people in the Chinese community in New York City were scammed out of an estimated $3 million after receiving automated messages claiming to be from the Chinese consulate and demanding money to settle a criminal matter. Of the 4.4 billion robocalls received by Americans in September, about 40% were scams.
RoboKiller is a call-blocking app made by TelTech, whose vice president of product, Ethan Garr, said, “It’s definitely been building within the past five years, but it’s gotten especially bad this year.” The worst area code to have when it comes to robocalls is Atlanta’s 404.
“The carriers started to identify the bad guys,” said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. “Call-blocking apps started to scale up and get publicity. What we figure is that bad guys started having to call more to get through.”
In May, Adrian Abramovich was fined $120 million by the FCC for placing almost 100 million robocalls within 3 months. When he testified a month earlier in front of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the Senate learned just how easy robocalling and spoofing, the practice of making a call look like it’s coming from your area code, is.
“Voice calls are so cheap, they cost only a penny a minute and [robocallers] pay for the calls that pick up,” Garr said. “You’re not limited by the number of calls you can make. You’re limited by the number of people that can answer the calls.”
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint all offer filtering services to keep robocalls at bay. “It’s actually true of email,” Quilici said. “We still get a ton of spam, but Google and everyone has gotten so good at filtering email that you don’t notice. The phone network hasn’t gotten as sophisticated in the filtering.”