Robocallers try new tactics to evade crackdownsDecember 5, 2021
Like the Whac-A-Mole game at the carnival, every time state and federal law enforcement officials think they have smacked down scam robocalls, the unwanted calls pop up in a slightly different place with a slightly different face.
One new trick is for callers to send messages straight to voicemail. The scammers argue that because they don’t cause phones to ring, they aren’t really calling at all.
They also may buy or hijack lists of real phone numbers to trick spam-blocking software into letting the calls through. Law enforcement officials have asked phone carriers to make it harder for scammers to obtain real numbers, but those lists are legally for sale by third-party data providers, and ferreting out who is buying them is difficult.
Earlier this month, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, led all 51 attorneys general, including the District of Columbia’s, in a letter calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reduce unwanted robocallers’ access to real phone numbers.
“Robocallers have too many arrows in their quiver,” Stein said in a Stateline interview. “We have to do everything in our power to make sure they can’t pretend to be legitimate callers and trick people into picking up the phone.”
Scammers’ motivation is “to steal from vulnerable people, and they are so successful at it that they have great incentives to come up with technological workarounds every time we try to block them,” Stein said.
Law enforcement officials make a distinction between legitimate automatic calls, such as reminders from your pharmacy or your kid’s school, and the scam calls to random numbers hoping to get the unsuspecting to buy unneeded goods or services or to give up personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that in the third quarter of this year, it received 134,366 reports of phone call fraud, with nearly $165 million in reported money lost.
So far this year, the FCC has received about 152,000 informal consumer complaints about unwanted calls, spokesperson Paloma Perez wrote in an email.
YouMail, a private company that sells call-blocking software and tracks the estimated number of calls, reported 4.1 billion unwanted robocalls in October, up from 3.9 billion in September.
Those numbers translate to 132 million calls a day, 5.5 million an hour, 1,530 a second and, in perhaps the most affecting of all, an average of 12.6 calls per person with a phone in that month.
Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, said…