Why Robocalls Keep Ringing



All it takes is an eerie silence at the other end of the call to make you speak, but you quickly realize you’ve been robbed of time when a robotic voice says you owe money to the government.


Picking up the phone has become a gamble— people don’t know if they will be speaking to a real person or an automated message.


Robocalls have been plaguing the devices we rely on, and the number of victims has only been increasing in recent months. According to YouMail, the developer of a robocall blocking software, “4.1 billion robocalls were placed nationwide in June 2018, equaling roughly 12.7 calls per person affected.”


Robokiller, another service that claims to block these unwanted calls, can separate robocalls from other scam or telemarketing calls because they are “auto-dialed from a computer and deliver a pre-recorded message.” The app’s website reports that political robocalls are legal, but “most robocalls are either illegal, fraudulent, or both.”


During the election season, political robocalls aim to sway voters or seek donations. They were approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has been working to find the origins of robocallers. The FCC has considered creating an authentication system to distinguish real phone calls from fraudulent ones. The system focuses on harmful robocalls that evade call-blocking systems by hiding their original phone numbers behind fake caller IDs, which makes them harder to trace.


However, defining problematic calls threaten some businesses. They argued that without the convenience of automated messages, they risk losing communication with their customers. In April, the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) submitted a letter to a Senate committee explaining that consumers benefit from calls and texts “ranging from low balance notifications to repayment counseling, among other important notices and alerts,” according to the CBA website.


The recent flood of scam calls has swallowed important messages reminding users of their medical appointments or notifying them of canceled flights. People are hesitant to answer their phones as fraudulent calls distract them from vital information or daily life. Though some robocalls are important, the everyday cell phone user would be much more at ease if auto-dialed calls were filtered out altogether.


The New York Times reported that New Jersey doctor Gary Pess gets so many calls that “mimic his area code and the first three digits of his phone number” that he stopped answering them, which led him to ignore a call from an emergency room doctor about a patient who needed his attention.


He had grown to expect unwanted calls, and so missed one that was real and legitimate. Many more people could fall into the same habit and risk missing important calls.


A recent outbreak of robocalls targeted at Chinese immigrants has spread to users regardless of their national origin. According to National Public Radio (NPR), these robocall messages claim to come from the Chinese consulate and warn immigrants of a document that may affect their status in the United States. To discuss how these documents must be picked up, the call connects people to live scammers. These scammers present themselves as police officers, telling the victim the case will be resolved if money is sent to a Hong Kong bank account.


Queens resident Jane Rivkin was pestered by around seven of these calls. She claimed her spouse had also been disrupted by the many calls from their local area code.


Though Rivkin and her spouse quickly hung up because they could not understand the calls, Mandarin speakers have fallen victim to the telephone scams. NPR reported an estimated “$3 million has been stolen from [New York City’s] residents.” The NYPD, along with security experts “say they think the calls are originating in mainland China.”


Since robocall scammers have found ways to slip by filters and appear convincing enough to swamp legal messages, businesses would be more productive if they cut down on auto-dialer services completely. Recipients may be more inclined to receive notices or reminders through text message. Businesses would lift the worry of distinguishing good robocalls from bad ones if they limited their use. OneReach, a telecommunications service provider that offers companies custom voice and text solutions, claimed “77% of consumers aged 18-34 and 64% of all consumers are likely to have a positive perception of any company that offers texting.”


NPR suggested putting phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry in order to “cut down on unwanted calls.” Robocall blocking services are also available, but scammers quickly learn to evade them.


With 4.1 billion reported robocalls, how many moments have been robbed from us?

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