I never realized the magnitude of robocalls I got until I started working from home a couple of years ago. I would be sitting in my home office and the landline phone would ring constantly during the day announcing area codes I had never heard of. Even late in the evening and early on weekend mornings I would get these harassing robocalls. I would listen to my talking caller ID announce strange and unfamiliar numbers. Or my answering machine would leave messages about credit card offers, vacation packages for sale, computer viruses, or my personal favorite the IRS and Social Security needs me to contact them immediately.
At first not understanding how scammy the whole process worked, I would pick up the phone and tell the person to stop calling and take my name and number off their call list. When that didn’t work, I would press the number that offered a don’t call back option. I later learned that doing those things just made them call you more. The goal of robocalls was to find live numbers of real human beings. By engaging or pressing an option to don’t call me I was signaling that me and my number were real further increasing the opportunity for more calls and more harassment. Now I have stopped doing that but of course, like most people the calls still continued but not at the high volume as before.
I have noticed lately an even deeper decrease in volume of calls. And I can thank the Coronavirus Virus. According to YouMail, a technology company that tracks robocalls, during the month of March there was a drop in calls with 4.1 billion compared to February’s number of 4.8 billion calls. Robocalls typically come from overseas call centers and they have had to close down due to the virus. A lot of these centers lack the infrastructure to protect their workers and practice social distancing. But like here in America, those companies will figure out work from home strategies and we might see an uptick in robocalls again. If and when the onslaught resumes the calls will center around Coronavirus virus scams and debt collection as millions of Americans are out of work and unable to pay their bills.
The government has been paying attention and making stronger efforts to put things in place to combat the robocall problem. The TRACED Act was passed last year allowing people to identify calls to avoid answering them. Also, in March the FCC said it was abandoning plans for US telecom companies to voluntarily implement methods for reducing robocalls and making it mandatory. They are giving the industry until June 30, 2021, to roll out “Shaken/Stir,” a system that allows companies to verify that a call is from who it says it’s from. This addresses the problem of “spoofing,” which is when a call appears to be legitimate when it isn’t.
The FCC also created a dedicated website with consumer warnings and safety tips around the Coronavirus virus including info on robocall scams.
I know that these efforts will not completely rid all robocalls but I think it is a step in the right direction. I also know that responding to callers whose numbers you recognize is a good best practice. I am not sure if we will ever be fully rid of robocalls but I do appreciate the fact that my time at home during this pandemic has been a much quieter one.