If it seems like the only phone calls you get are robocalls and scams, you're not alone.
According to Robocall Index, 4.4 billion of these calls were made in the United States in June. That's 6 million calls every hour, 1,700 per second.
Adam Doupé is an assistant professor at Arizona State University, where he studies cybersecurity. Doupé defines robocalls — also called spam calls — as phone calls that are made through an automated system that allows callers to target people on a massive scale.
“The other thing that they can do is they will wait until you actually interact with the system,” Doupé explained. “So they can have the recording say ‘Press 1 to talk to an agent.’ And as soon as you press one, then they’ll connect you to a real person who will try to probably scam you, depending on the nature of the robocall.”
The most common types of robocalls typically involve callers posing as financial institutions or government personnel to scam people into sharing their credit card or social security numbers. That information is then typically repurposed and sold.
There hasn’t been very much research into who’s behind these calls, but Doupé notes that we do know many of them are coming from outside the United States. But you wouldn't know that when you look at your caller ID. That's because robocallers frequently employ a trick called “neighbor spoofing,” which involves using a fake number that’s similar to the one belonging to the person they’re trying to scam.
Unfortunately, Doupé says, the widespread problem of illegal robocalling doesn't have a clear solution yet. Phone companies are “legally obligated” to deliver any calls placed through their network. Doupé says there’s no point in putting your number on the “Do Not Call List” to avoid these calls. In fact, he says, scammers actually use that list to target people. Elderly people and immigrant populations are the two groups most commonly targeted by scam calls.
To protect yourself from robocalls, Doupe says it’s important to “be vigilant,” and remember that phone calls can come from anywhere. Make sure you never give out your personal information over the phone without confirming the identity of the caller.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.