301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

11.30.19 – Patch – 

MARYLAND — From debt and insurance scams to legitimate businesses, robocalls have become such a constant nuisance that many Americans are wary of picking up the phone. In October alone, 5.7 billion robocalls were placed, and of those, more than 120 million were in Maryland, according to YouMail’s most recent robocall index.

Nationwide, robocalls are made at a rate of 182.7 million per day, 7.6 million per hour and 2,100 per second. The average U.S. resident received 17.3 robocalls in October.

The October tally is up significantly from September, when about 4.5 billion robocalls were detected, according to Alex Quilici, the CEO of the robocall blocking and tracking company YouMail.

The previous high was in March, when 5.2 billion robocalls were reported. Why the big jump? The answer is simple, Quilici told Patch. The people behind robocalls are getting smarter.

“It has been declining,” he said. “We think it’s a couple of things. It’s harder to get through because of blocking apps, so they have to keep making more calls to get through. And a lot of people respond to them.”

The Maryland attorney general in August said phone companies agreed to curb the more than 100 million illegal robocalls made each month in the state. Twelve phone companies pledged to adopt eight principles to fight illegal robocalls and make it easier for attorneys general to investigate and prosecute bad actors nationwide, officials said.

In Maryland, residents received 122.9 million robocalls in October. The top 10 robocallers here were:

  1. Substitute Teacher Alert, 410-427-3031, Employment Opportunity
  2. Capital One, 800-955-6600, Bank/Credit Card Payment Reminder
  3. Prison Call Consent, 443-602-8540, Prison Call Consent
  4. Service Payment Reminder, 888-423-0900, Payment Reminder
  5. Substitute Teacher Alert, 540-579-5412, Substitute Teacher Alert
  6. Unknown Caller, 855-245-7098, Debt Collector
  7. AT&T, 800-947-5096, Service Payment Reminder
  8. Synchrony Bank, 855-885-5834, Bank/Credit Card Payment Reminder
  9. Inaudible Caller, 202-918-1217, Unknown Robocaller
  10. Student Loan Debt Collector, 443-234-9435, Student Loan Scam

The 10 cities that received the most robocalls in October were:

  1. Atlanta: 221,085,300 robocalls, up 27 percent from September
  2. Dallas: 205,081,200 robocalls, up 24 percent from September
  3. New York City: 175,637,400 robocalls, up 21 percent from September
  4. Los Angeles: 175,623,400 robocalls, up 29 percent from September
  5. Chicago: 171,866,400 robocalls, up 23 percent from September
  6. Houston: 169,378,100 robocalls, up 25 percent from September
  7. Baltimore: 122,852,700 robocalls, up 23 percent from September
  8. Newark, New Jersey: 112,404,500 robocalls, up 26 percent from September
  9. Phoenix: 108,903,500 robocalls, up 26 percent from September
  10. San Francisco Bay area: 103,622,700 robocalls, up 23 percent from September

Nationally, about 47 percent of robocalls were scam calls, according to the report. The rest were legitimate — 11 percent were telemarketers, 20 percent were payment reminders, and 22 percent were alerts and other reminders.

Related: MD Scam Alert: Cons That Steal Millions From Aging Parents

Many robocalls direct people to press “1” on their phone keypads if they want more information, or to press “9” to be taken off the calling list. Both actions are counterproductive, signaling to the caller that a real person has been reached, Quilici said.

“It’s pointless to press a number,” he said. “It just tells them it’s an active number, so you’re going to get more calls.”

The calls aren’t just annoying. The blocking and tracking firm Truecaller estimates that consumers have lost $10.5 billion to phone scams so far this year, with an average loss of $244.

In Maryland, the top phone scams targeting the elderly are:

  • IRS Impersonation Scam
  • Computer Tech Support Scams
  • Impending Law Suit Scams
  • Health-Related Scams
  • Unsolicited Phone Calls

Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have passed legislation cracking down on annoying and unsolicited robocalls, but the two bills need to be reconciled before sending them to President Trump for his signature.

The House version requires phone carriers to implement caller identification technology, and it requires the FCC to report annually to Congress on the state of robocalls.

But Quilici said the legislation “isn’t a panacea,” and he doesn’t think tougher laws will make robocalls disappear entirely.

The increased frequency of robocalls in October proves that blocking apps are effective, Quilici said.

“On your computer, you run anti-virus software,” he said. “Now you need to run YouMail or another app on your cell phone to block the calls. Consumers have to protect themselves. You lock your door, you need to run a robocall blocking apps and services. It’s the new normal.”

Some other robocall blocking apps include:

Some strategies:

  • Be leery about anyone calling on the phone about any emergency. Get a phone number to call back, and verify the whereabouts and safety of the person the call is about.
  • Never give out Social Security, Medicare or financial account information over the phone.
  • In general, avoid answering calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Don’t confirm any personal information. Avoid saying “yes” to any question, as calls may be recorded and the answer can be used as consent for a purchase you didn’t request.
  • Don’t press any numbers to stop calls. That will likely increase the number of robocalls you get, signaling to the scammers they’ve reached an active number.
  • Change your voicemail message so it doesn’t reveal your name or other personal information. If you want a legitimate caller to know they’ve reached you, go ahead and put your phone number on the message.
  • Don’t return calls that claim to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, your bank or a local police or sheriff’s department. If you think the message is legitimate, don’t return the number left on a voicemail. Instead, look up the legitimate phone number.
  • Register both your landline and your cell phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.
  • Report robocalls and other unwanted calls with the FTC, by phone at 888-382-1222 or 877-382-4357, or online.