More than a decade after Congress passed the Do Not Call Act, the U.S. finds itself in the midst of a robocalling rampage. Americans received an estimated 683 million robocalls in October alone, but consumers have never had any definitive data available to grasp the extent of robocalling volumes, locations, or caller types – until now.
To really solve a problem, you first need to measure it so you can track progress. That is why our telecom services company YouMail (News - Alert) has launched the new monthly YouMail Robocall Index to give U.S. consumers and businesses a comprehensive, ongoing report on the extent of this problem.
The Robocall Index details the scope and locations of the worst robocalling hotspots and numbers across the nation. Our service has answered some 5 billion calls from our smartphone users, providing a unique pool of data from which to extrapolate national robocalling trends. Algorithms can detect many situations that indicate robo-dialers to be blocked, such as unusually high-volume calling patterns from the same phone.
The hundreds of thousands of consumer robocall complaints made to the Federal Communications Commission barely scratch the surface. We now know that many hundreds of millions of robocalls are placed every month. In fact, roughly one in six calls received today is a robocall. When tackling a problem this huge, it will require a combination of new technologies, policies, penalties, and perhaps even changes in consumer behaviors to finally solve it.
Debt Collectors, Southeast Region Ranked Highest
The YouMail Robocalling Index gives us the first public snapshot of the robocalling menace. Consumers can use the index to learn about robocall trends and how their city’s call volumes compare to other areas. They can also identify the biggest robocall offenders nationally, and be made aware of any broad robocall scams to avoid.
In the month of October, 17 of the top 20 robocallers were debt-related – mostly banking and retail credit card providers. Other prolific robocallers included a cable company sales call, a health insurance sales call, a bank telemarketing survey, and a prison scam in which callers targeted unsuspecting consumers to pay exorbitant fees to bail out inmates.
The top identified robodialer was a toll-free number for a bank debt collector that placed more than 31 million calls in October alone. Such high-volume calling patterns are a sure sign that automated robots, not people, are making the calls.
Three of the most-called area codes were located in New York, the hardest hit city by far with 32.6 million robocalls received in October – nearly twice as many as second-ranked Atlanta (17.3 million). Texas was also inundated, with Houston’s 832 area code ranking third (16.1 million) and Dallas claiming two of the top 20 area codes (19.8 million combined).
Overall, the Southeast was a clear regional hotspot. Metro areas in the top 20 affected list included Charlotte (9.5 million), Fort Lauderdale (9.3 million), Birmingham (8.8 million), Memphis (8.2 million), Orlando (8.1 million), southern Louisiana (7.8 million), the Virginia Peninsula (7.7 million), and Augusta (News - Alert), Georgia (7.6 million).
Two of the top five non-toll free robocall-originating area codes were based in greater Milwaukee. The other three were based in Columbus, Ohio, and Canton, Ohio, and Denver. (Given the prevalence of number spoofing, these are just the locations of the numbers that were used, not necessarily where the callers actually were located.)
Policies Fixes Need Blocking Technologies
The U.S. government has long recognized that unwanted robocalls create an aggravating drain on time and productivity. Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection back in 1991, and more recently the FCC (News - Alert) strengthened its protections in 2012. These regulations require telemarketers to have prior express written consent to use auto-dialers and/or make pre-recorded calls to consumer phones, with some exceptions.
The Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry, implemented in 2004, has not been able to solve this problem, and call-blocking technologies from telecommunications carriers and service providers has only had limited success. The block-one-caller-at-a-time approach has barely affected robo-dialers, which can place millions of calls in minutes – often from overseas sites outside of U.S. jurisdiction.
As frustrations continue to mount, a public groundswell is rising up to fight back. Consumers Union has started a national petition at www.EndRobocalls.org that urges the phone companies to “provide free tools to block unwanted robocalls.” Last summer, the FCC implemented new rules that encourage phone companies to work with third-party developers to deploy more effective call-blocking technologies.
The new FCC rules include provisions that should open the market for industry to come up with more innovative solutions to counter robocalls. Some analysts suggest that carriers should provide call blockers – similar to email spam folders – which can weed out the unwanted calls automatically.
We can create new blocking lists and registries, but on their own they won’t halt the scourge of robocalling. That will require a unified front by the government, industry, and the public to finally say enough is enough.
Edited by Kyle Piscioniere