Automated telemarketing calls made by the billions are the bane of telephone service, especially the mobile kind. Phones in the 609 area code are especially hard hit, but there’s one thing their owners could do to nearly cut such calls in half — switch to an 856 number.
In July, the folks with 609 numbers got 14.5 million robocalls, according to YouMail, a communications service company that tracks them. That works out to 11.6 per person … and if you think you received more than that, you probably did, ones that either weren’t tracked or dialed the old-fashioned way by people in call centers.
Over in the 856 area, phones got “just” 7.2 million robocalls, or 6.1 per person. That can’t be due to socio-economic differences. The far wealthier 201 area code in North Jersey got 8.8 per person, far fewer than in 609. Nationwide, the rate was 8.0 calls per capita.
There is plenty of evidence the number of calls is surging, thanks to cheap auto-dialing technology for making them. YouMail said there were 2.6 billion such calls in the U.S. in July, up from 2.4 billion a year ago.
Robocalling is the source of most consumer complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Complaints to the FTC have jumped from 3.6 million in 2015 to 5.3 million last year. The FCC added another 200,000.
Mobile phones are the preferred target of telemarketers nowadays, and not just because more than half of American households no longer have a landline. People keep their mobile phones with them all the time, typically never out of reach — giving telemarketers and scam artists the most direct connection to customers/victims.
In the early days of smartphones, owners could check the number calling and ignore unwanted calls. Now readily available software allows robocallers to make it look like the call is coming from the local phone exchange of the recipient or one nearby — even if it’s among the billions placed from overseas.
New Jersey uses the federal Do Not Call registry, which worked well when it launched in 2003 (to opt out of telemarketing calls, dial 888-382-1222 from the number to be registered). But it never blocked calls from politicians, surveys, charities requesting donations, medical offices and debt collectors. That last category accounts for most of the top robocalling numbers afflicting Americans.
The registry does still protect people from unwanted calls from legitimate U.S. companies. But it can’t stop a flood of other annoying calls, many using anonymous dialing methods to thwart enforcement.
Under its new chairman, Ajit Pai, the FCC is cracking down and sending a message to call offenders. In June it proposed a record $120 million fine for a Miami man accused of making nearly 100 million falsified robocalls last year.
Tech companies — including YouMail, Nomorobo and Truecaller — offer services designed to stop robocalls.
The FCC may allow telecom firms to block robocalls that appear to originate from unassigned or invalid phone numbers.
In mid-July, the commission voted to pursue a system in which phone carriers would authenticate the origins of calls before completing them. Consumers could be given the option of blocking calls that aren’t authenticated and therefore likely to be robocalls falsely seeming to come from a local or other acceptable number.
As with another (and lethal) digital networking affliction — distracted driving — the solution to the problem created by technology will mainly be found in better technology.
Until that’s developed, requiring unfamiliar callers to leave a message remains the surest way to block unwanted calls.