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Written by: Laura Fitzgerald

Head of Brand and Digital Experience

Robocalls, as defined by Tech Target are “automated telephone calls that deliver a recorded message,” often using caller ID spoofing to deceive recipients. Caller ID spoofing allows fraudsters to manipulate the caller ID information, making it appear as though the call is coming from a familiar or trusted number. This increases the likelihood that the recipient will answer the call, as they might believe it is from a legitimate source, such as a known contact or a reputable organization. Despite the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) taking measures to prevent unsolicited robocalls, they have become more prevalent—showing up as the FCC’s top consumer complaint and a top consumer protection priority. 

According to National Consumer Law Center data, Americans receive over 33 million scam robocalls daily and more than 50 billion annually. Additionally, the volume of robotexts has surged, with over 160 billion spam texts received in 2023​.​ And it’s more than just an annoyance. In 2022, Time Magazine reported that around 68 million Americans lost over $29 billion to scam callers.

How does robocalling work?

Robocalls are typically initiated using an autodialer, a software application that automatically dials large numbers of phone numbers from a database. The numbers can be generated sequentially or obtained from lists purchased or scraped from various sources. 

Answering just one spam call is a signal to scammers that you are willing to pick up the phone. So they’ll keep calling you, sometimes from different phone numbers, to get you to answer again–often utilizing different schemes, too. 

8 common types of robocalls

Robocalls come in many forms, each with a specific goal or target audience. Here are eight common types:

1. Debt collection robocalls

These calls typically attempt to collect payment for unpaid debts. They might be legitimate calls from debt collection agencies or fraudulent attempts to extract money by pretending to be a debt collector. 

2. Phishing scams

Phishing robocalls aim to steal personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, or credit card information. These calls often claim to be from reputable organizations like banks or government agencies to trick recipients into divulging sensitive information. Phone scams can be worse in call centers. Be sure to read Pindrop’s article on how phone scams work and how call centers can better protect themselves in the future.

3. Healthcare robocalls

These robocalls offer health insurance plans, medical devices, or prescription medications. While some may be legitimate, many scams attempt to steal personal information or sell fraudulent products.

4. Political robocalls

Common during election seasons, these calls are used by political campaigns to inform voters about candidates, solicit donations, or encourage voter turnout. These calls are generally legal. But they are illegal and considered scams when it’s not someone’s voice. With the advancement in generative AI, replicating voices has become significantly easier and more realistic. Technologies like deep learning and neural networks have made it possible to create highly accurate voice clones that can mimic the tone, pitch, and cadence of a person’s voice. One example of when this occurred is how tough it was for voters to spot the difference in the Joe Biden deepfake in the primary telling voters not to vote in New Hampshire.

5. Charity robocalls

Charity robocalls solicit donations for various causes. While many are from legitimate charities, scammers also use these calls to steal money by pretending to be from well-known organizations.

6. Loan scams

These robocalls offer loans with attractive terms to entice recipients. The goal is often to collect personal and financial information or upfront fees and never provide loan services.

7. Foreign robocalls

These calls come from international numbers and can involve a variety of scams, including fake lottery winnings or threats from foreign governments. These calls often aim to extract money or personal information from recipients.

8. Tech support scams

These robocalls claim to be from tech support teams of major companies, alleging that the recipient’s computer is infected with a virus or has some other problem. The scam involves persuading the victim to pay for unnecessary services or to give remote access to their computer.

How to identify robocalls

Stonebridge Business Partners lists how to recognize robocalls and discusses Pindrop’s Top 40 scam campaigns from 2016, which included Google/business listing scams, loan-related scams, free vacation calls, political campaign calls, local map verification calls, and “lowering your electricity bill” calls. It also cites within this article that the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) released the following list of red flags to help consumers recognize a phone scam:

  • If the caller says, you’ve been specially selected for the offer.
  • They tell you you’ll get a free bonus if you buy their product.
  • The caller informs you that you’ve won one of five valuable prizes.

How to stop robocalls 

Authorities like the FCC and FTC have implemented the STIR/SHAKEN protocol to verify caller IDs and reduce spoofing. It’s a key authentication mandated on June 30, 2021, to ensure that all US service providers (CSPs) are authenticated for branded calling. They also enforce regulations to curb illegal robocalling activities, such as imposing fines on violators and working with service providers to block suspicious calls. 

Set up call spam filters

For individuals, using call-blocking apps and reporting robocalls to the FTC can help mitigate the impact of these unwanted calls. 

Put your name on the Do Not Call Registry 

The national Do Not Call list protects landline and wireless phone numbers. You can register your numbers on the national Do Not Call list at no cost by calling 1-888-382-1222 (voice) or 1-866-290-4236 (TTY) from the phone number you wish to register. You can also register at donotcall.gov.

Report the number to the FTC and block it

Reporting unwanted calls to authorities and being cautious about sharing personal information can also help avoid robocalls.

How to stop robocalls on Android

The FCC’s website provides consumer tips for stopping unwanted robocalls as well as a printable version to stop unwanted texts as well. It’s also important to know device-specific measures. If you have an Android phone, you can use the built-in call-blocking features under settings and enable the spam calls feature. There are also call-blocking apps, such as Hiya, TrueCaller, and Nomorobo. Carrier-specific services include AT&T Call Protect, Verizon’s Call Filter, and the T-Mobile Scam Shield.

How to stop robocalls on iPhone

If you are on an iPhone, you can also go to settings and enable “Silence Unknown Callers.” Use “Do Not Disturb” to only allow calls from your contacts. Apps that help with call blocking on iPhones include RoboKiller, Hiya, and TrueCaller, which can identify and block spam calls. The same carrier-specific settings also apply.

What to do if you get a robocall

The first measure is to avoid answering or engaging and report the call. By reporting the call to the FCC at donotcall.gov or the FCC, you are doing your part to identify potentially fraudulent callers. You can also block the call directly on an Android or iPhone by clicking the number and blocking that caller in the future.

Potential risks of answering robocalls

Your voice may be stolen

Scammers may record your voice for unauthorized transactions or identity verification purposes.  

Malware attacks

Some robocalls may contain links or prompts that, if followed, can lead to malware being installed on your phone.

Identity theft

Providing any personal information can lead to identity theft. Scammers often try to trick you into revealing sensitive information.

Risk of fiscal loss

Engaging with scam calls can result in financial loss through fraudulent transactions or by providing credit card information.

Spam calls vs. Robocalls – What’s the difference?

Spam calls include any unwanted calls, typically unsolicited marketing or sales calls. Robocalls are automated calls that deliver a pre-recorded message, which can be for marketing, information dissemination, or scams.

According to Robokiller, scammers typically defraud older Americans out of more significant amounts of money. The median loss for people 70-79 was $800 and jumped to $1,500 for those 80 and over. The scams that take these considerable amounts of money from seniors over 80 are calls regarding prizes, sweepstakes, and lottery scams.

Conclusion

Robocalls are persistent, but you can significantly reduce their impact using the right tools and strategies. Use call-blocking features and apps, report suspicious calls, and be cautious about sharing personal information over the phone. 

See more on how Pindrop’s technology accurately detected fraud in the Biden AI robocall.

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