Why Are There So Many Robocalls?
As quickly as most people hang up on them, robocalls are actually a massive problem. It might seem harmless when you hear an automated message about your extended car warranty to just hang up… But did you know that robocalls cost mobile phone customers over $29 billion in 2021? T-Mobil blocked over 21 billion scam calls in that year alone. Imagine how many automated calls went out in general… Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine. Every week some 425 million robocalls go out. Last year the rate of robocalls more than doubled from 2020. Why are there so many of these spam calls? Why can’t they be stopped? And, importantly, how do they work?
How Robocalls Work
When people hear about call centers in foreign countries, they tend to imagine people making a great deal of calls manually. This isn’t how robocalls and scam call centers operate. A company either runs an automated dialer or pays for an automated dialer service. The dialer calls phone numbers – Either randomly generated or from a ledger – Until somebody picks up. The call center doesn’t know who is or isn’t called until the call moves forward. For example, you may receive a call promising “total debt forgiveness,” and press 1 to speak to an operator. Until you press 1, the call center doesn’t know you’re there. It’s a bit like a spam email – You’re not usually in trouble until you click the link.
Scammers will then attempt to wrestle money from you in some way. Using prepaid Google Play or Apple iTunes gift cards are common methods for them to receive money. No legitimate business or government body will ever ask you to buy something, even as a test or “confirmation.”
Why Can’t We Stop Them?
Nuisance phone calls are the single largest complaint received by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). It may seem like nobody is doing anything to stop them. This is not the case, however. In March of 2020, the FCC announced massive fines for scammers in Texas peddling fake health insurance plans over the phone. The problem is one of volume. For every call center that’s shut down, several more take their place. The reason is that it is a low-risk, low-cost, high-profit business model for criminals. A single autodialer on a slow phone can place over a call per minute. Many call centers and autodialer services employ dozens or hundreds of disposable cellphones for this purpose. Some don’t even use phones, rather “spoof” phone numbers to reach victims.
International efforts to combat these crime rings are ongoing. As criminals become more invested in the enterprise, so do organizations like the FCC.
How Can I Prevent Robocalls?
The easiest way to prevent robocalls is to subscribe to a spam blocking service. It was T-Mobile’s Scam Shield service that blocked 1.8 million calls in 2021. Other third-party services also exist, allowing users to screen and flag numbers as malicious. Beyond preventative services, education goes a long way. Ensure employees know not to divulge any financial or corporate information on an incoming call. Please avoid entering your phone number into services that ask for it when you can… Especially services you’re new to. These sometimes sell phone numbers to call centers.
For this reason, you should also hang up on spam calls. Pressing a number to be removed from a call list often does nothing and may put you higher on the list for callbacks. While it’s tempting to give scammers a piece of your mind, it can be a major security risk. Voice recording and deepfake technology can copy your voice, which can be used in further attacks.
The number of robocalls is expected to continue to grow. As this nuisance continues, phone providers and government bodies will work together to fight it. Do your part to educate yourself on how these scams work. Talk to friends and family. The less often these scams work, the less money they will generate. If we can reduce the profitability of this industry, it will eventually die off. Until then, it is expected to continue growing.