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There's No End in Sight to Our Robocall Hell

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If Thanos came to Earth and only wanted to turn robocallers into dust, the Avengers would let him. And given how bad spam calls have gotten, surely most if not every adult with a cellphone in the U.S., and certainly everyone in the half of U.S. households that still have landlines, would throw Thanos a parade.

There was a time when you could safely answer your phone without already knowing who’s on the other end of the line. But those days are long over. Robocalls are not only annoying, but they also make it hard to function. Hell, they make elements of my job damn near impossible—seriously, I made around 100 calls this week for a story, not a single person answered. Sure, there are other bigger and more sinister machines to rage against, but this one—this one is mine.


Fuck this thing in particular.

For that reason and many others, it was demoralizing to learn today that robocalls are, as anyone with a phone likely already knows, apparently still on the rise. Americans are getting hit with more and more nuisances calls and scams each day; spewing straight out of our speakers, like the noxious remnants of a partially dissolved fatberg erupting from a busted sewage pipe.


The caller-ID company Hiya, which analyzes 12-some-odd billion phone calls per month, reports today that robocalls globally grew 325 percent in 2018. That’s 85 billion spam calls flagged by the company in the last year alone. Around 26.3 billion of those were in the U.S., a 46 percent increase from the year before. This aligns with another study cited this month by the FCC, which says that roughly half of all calls made to cellphones in the U.S. this year will be spam.

The only good news is, I don’t live in Spain. Per the report, almost a quarter of all calls received there are bullshit.

Frustratingly, Hiya pegs the average number of robocalls received by Americans per month at just seven—which I think must be a typo because not a day has gone by in the last year when I haven’t received a minimum of three robocalls. I would give up vital organs for seven robocalls a month.


So in addition to Spain, there are four other countries in which people are getting bombarded worse than those of us here in the U.S. Twenty-two percent of calls in the UK are bullshit, 21 percent in Italy, and 20 percent in France. The percentage in Argentina is roughly the same as the U.S., though they’re receiving fewer calls per person, meaning the plague is more evenly spread out amongst the population.

You’ll be further tickled to learn that there’s no shortage in the variety of “spam campaigns” worldwide. Among the most prevalent, according to Hiya, are bank account scams, credit card scams, and “neighbor scams,” where the fraudsters spoof area codes and phone numbers likely familiar to their mark. Even more malicious, fake extortion and kidnapping calls—many placed by prisoners, apparently—are very common in Mexico, Brazil, and Chile, the report says.


The most common type in the U.S. involves scams in which the caller pretends to be an agent of the IRS demanding “unpaid taxes.” Spoofing is also high on the list. And roughly 27 percent are telemarketers, whom I like to imagine are all going to hell for eternity.

One of the chief problems in the United States is that—like Do-Not-Track technology—the Do-Not-Call registry is a broken piece of shit. And the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and Truth in Caller ID Act, which are supposed to stop this sort of thing, aren’t doing enough either. This is a problem that is so glaring, in fact, that it’s one of the few things that Republican and Democratic members of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) are able to agree on.


In a recent interview in Spain, highlighted today by Forbes, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that robocalls are the number one complaint received by the agency. “We really beefed up our enforcement efforts,” he said. “The largest fines in the FCC’s 85-year history have been imposed on robocallers who have been bombarding American consumers with these scam calls.” The figure cited by the chairman was $200 million in fines last year alone—$120 million of which landed on a single slithering ghoul who alone orchestrated over 97 million robocalls in three months.

But since robocalls seem to be continuing to spread faster than a measles outbreak at a birthday party full of 90’s Hollywood has-beens, maybe this year we can double that. Or quadruple it. Based on an FCC report released earlier this month, that seems to be the plan.


But perhaps fines aren’t the answer at all. I’m just saying, we should consider giving Thanos a ring. Although, he probably won’t answer.