via Moak: Rise of robocalls, clarionledger.com, 2/25/2016
It’s a daily annoyance for some; a nightmare for others. You’re going about your daily business and your phone rings. You don’t recognize the number, but answer it anyway, only to find a short silence on the other end, then the voice of a recorded message or a click as you’re transferred to a telemarketer or debt collector. You’ve been robocalled.
Robocalling (automated dialing) is occurring with increasing frequency. Recently, a website called Youmail released its statistics on robocalling, revealing that (at least) 2.3 billion robocalls were made in January alone. That means that 858 robocalls are being placed every second of every day, statistically speaking.
According to Youmail (which sells call-blocking and voicemail services), the most robocalls are being made by debt collectors, hounding you because you’re late on that credit card payment. Fifteen of the top 20 numbers reported by Youmail’s National Robocall Index were from debt collectors, by themselves amounting to 175 million calls during January. The top caller: a “bank debt collection company” (possibly credit-card giant Capital One) placed 34.7 million of those calls, all by itself.
Robocalls are easy and cheap. Using special software and mass-dialing technology, debt collectors – or sales operations — can input thousands or millions of telephone numbers, then call consumers on a preset schedule. Although the vast majority of calls are blocked or ignored, enough must get through that it’s a profitable venture. According to Youmail, about one in six calls are robocalls.
It also seems from the Youmail report that we Southerners get the majority of robocalls. Of the top 20 area codes, 15 are in Southern cities. (No Mississippi cities were listed, but it’s a safe bet that Magnolia State residents get a lot of those calls.) The top-robocalled area codes were for Atlanta (three Atlanta area codes made the list), Houston, Dallas and Birmingham. Other Southern cities included Fort Lauderdale, Baton Rouge, Memphis, Charlotte and Columbia, South Carolina. Unsurprisingly, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., also made the list. Atlanta residents were by far the most likely to get robocalled, with enough robocalls to ensure every Atlantan got at least 30.
All this spiking activity doesn’t even count the number of political and survey robocalls we get; since a primary is coming up here in just a few days, you’re likely to get your share if you haven’t already.
If you read this column on a regular basis, you might remember that I wrote about some new robocalling guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission. In June, the FCC adopted a set of rulings which would help address the growth of nuisance robocalling. According to the FCC, robocalls are the largest source of complaints to the agency (more than 215,000 in 2014).
The wide-ranging measures encouraged the growth of technologies that could block or restrict robocalls; gave consumers the right to revoke their consent to get robocalls; empower consumers to stop companies from calling a number that has been recently reassigned to another consumer; and protections to keep consumers from getting a call just because they’re in an acquaintance’s phone.
Indeed, some companies are rising to the occasion. One promising company, Nomorobo, offers technology that can recognize and block robocalls, but it isn’t currently available for cell phones and traditional landline phones (only Voice-over-IP, or VOIP is supported.) There are also numerous apps that promise to block cell phone calls, some of which are free, some not. CTIA – The Wireless Association (previously known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association) has a list of apps athttp://www.ctia.org/your-wireless-life/consumer-tips/blocking-robocalls.
Of course, robocalling technology has its upside. Schools, for example, make effective use of robocalling to let parents know of school emergencies and closings, and your bank can let you know if your balance is getting low. But the biggest growth in the robocalling industry isn’t so positive; millions of customers lose billions of dollars each year by robocalling scammers.
For now, it appears that robocalling is here to stay, but you aren’t powerless. If you get a call and don’t recognize the number, you can just ignore it or save the number to a “scam” contact in your phone’s address book, and make its ringtone silent. You can also report the number, but without a little more information, it’s difficult to make a case.
One of the best options has always been – and still is – the Do-Not-Call Registry. If you are getting unwanted calls, it could help to place your number on the list. The federal list is at http://www.donotcall.gov; the Mississippi list is athttps://www.psc.state.ms.us/nocall/nocall.html.