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Spammers bombarded mobile phones in the US with 48 billion robocalls in 2018

Updated Jan 7th, 2019 12:35PM EST
Robocalls to cell phones
Image: Mito Images/REX/Shutterstock

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Preliminary year-end data is in on the explosive growth in robocalls to cell phones in the US, with more people than ever getting bombarded by calls from spammers and marketers who go to great lengths to trick you into answering their call.

Robocall management company YouMail has been tracking the volume of calls and says that 2018 saw 48 billion of them harass cell phone owners in the US last year, up 60 percent from 2017. That’s a huge jump in these types of calls, and while there’s certainly more awareness of the problem now, so far it seems that nothing has really served to effectively put the brakes on this problem. Especially given how easy it is for robocallers to spoof a local number and trick you into answering by making you think you’re getting a legitimate call from your area instead of from a toll-free number you don’t recognize.

Indeed, that’s one of the most popular scams. “Scam calls have been increasing very steadily, and it’s driving people to not answer their phone,” said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici, according to a CNBC report. “It’s driving people to not answer their phone, and it’s kind of created this death spiral of phone calls as the robocallers ramp up their efforts and the legitimate robocalls try harder to get through.”

Yes, there is a distinction. Around 60 percent of robocalls are classified as legitimate, even if they seem annoying to you. Those would be things like automated messages from pharmacies, schools and political candidates. The other 40 percent are downright scams — say, a dubious provider of health insurance tricks you into answering the phone and then tries to sign you up for a shady plan.

As the CNBC report notes, mobile carriers and smartphone makers alike are trying to do something about this influx. But one reason they’ve been largely unsuccessful so far is because the technology that makes it possible to implement these calls is so cheap and potentially lucrative for scammers. According to AT&T spokesman Andrew Morgan, “New, inexpensive technology and products have enabled scammers, including those located outside the US, to set up mass calling operations that can place high volumes of spoofed calls with minimal investment.”

Lawmakers and government leaders are finally starting to take action. We told you toward the end of the year, for example, about how the Federal Communications Commission wants to give wireless carriers more power to block spammy texts, in addition to the FCC setting up a database of phone numbers. Businesses would be able to check it to make sure numbers they’re allowed to call haven’t been assigned to new people. It’s a start, for sure, and hopefully it leads to a lot less of these calls as 2019 rolls on.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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