The robocall effect: No one answers the phone anymore

By Bob Hembree
Lake Powell Chronicle

PAGE – Arizona is a top target for illegal robocalls. The Federal Trade Commission’s daily reports 2,124 “do not call” complaints came from the 928-area code alone. The number of unreported instances is hard to determine, but millions of people are harassed each day by robocalls.
According to a Truecaller report, phone scams bilked Americans of $10.5 billion in 12 months. The Stockholm based company, with 130 million daily users, is one of many businesses producing apps to help control robocalls.
Truecallers April 2019 report may come as a surprise for some. Most phone scam victims aren’t seniors; they’re men aged 18-35 – despite receiving more than half as many scam calls as men over 65. Two out five of young men claim they’ve been victimized in the last 12 months compared to 13 percent of men over 35 years old. Overall, the number of men being victimized was 62 percent higher than women.
Parents with children under 18 years old are three times as likely to fall victim to phone scams. Households with incomes of $50-$75,000 reported almost half as many incidents as the income brackets above and below them.
All robocalls to cell phones are illegal unless the consumer has signed or checked a box authorizing them. Be careful when signing documents and checking boxes online.
Robocalls are generated from computers by the billions, 47.8 billion last year. The scammers are getting better at it too. They use spoofing software that tricks caller identification by generating random numbers or working from a list of real numbers. They can call and display a friend’s phone number.
Over the last decade, hackers have stolen information from databases, including banks, large retail outlets and organizations. This data circulates around the world, and probably for cheap to criminal operations.
Theft is not the only consequence of robocalls. People aren’t answering phones anymore. The calls are disruptive. For many, most calls received are robocalls. Doctors say their patients aren’t getting important messages, like appointment reminders or follow-ups. Legitimate businesses can’t reach customers for deliveries or other necessary communications.
So, what’s the solution?
A recent National Public Radio says, “AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, and nine other telecommunications companies teamed up with attorneys general of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia to announce a new pact to eradicate a common scourge in America: illegal robocalls.”
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have both passed bipartisan bills to address part of the problem, the illegal robocalls. The senate bill, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act passed 97-1.
The house bill, Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, passed 429-3.
One of the key components in both bills is requiring phone companies to use a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN. According to software developer Transnexus, “STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) are the frameworks that promise to prevent the completion of illegally spoofed calls.”
Neither the Senate nor the House bill is law yet.
While strengthening enforcement of robocall laws is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t stop the problem.
According to the Washington Post, “The calls keep coming because robo-callers make money. Partly that’s because their costs are low. Most phone calls are made and connected via the Internet, so robo-call companies can make tens of thousands, or even millions, of calls very cheaply. Many of the illegal robo-calls targeting the United States probably come from overseas — which used to be extremely expensive but now is far cheaper.”
The Federal Communications Commission also has a proposal: Truth in Caller ID and its rules would apply to both voice and text messages. They hope to work with foreign authorities to impose penalties on foreign scammers. Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O’Rielly says punishing illegal robocallers from “non-cooperative countries” would be difficult.
There is a lot of advice on what consumers should do with robocalls. In general, don’t give personal information over the phone. Some say don’t answer the phone at all for unrecognized numbers. Of course, this affects schools, doctor’s offices, charities, political candidates and the driver trying to get a package delivered.
Millennials may have a partial solution. An OpenMarket survey says 75 percent of millennials prefer text over voice calls. They say voice calls are obtrusive, while texts are short, to the point and leave an easy to access record or reminder. Texts allow the receiver to read and respond on their own time. They’re more likely to read texts from businesses and organizations than answer their voice calls.


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