Robocalls: The 50-Ton Elephant

If you’ve reached the breaking point in robocalls, you’re not alone. We tracked ours for the last three months just to see how bad a problem it’s become. Since Jan. 29, tracking only our landline at home, we received 583 robocalls – an average of 6.5 calls per day, 24/7/365. And that’s with Nomorobo installed on our landline. Thirty of those calls were identified by a single phone number.

While you can debate the effectiveness of Nomorobo and a host of other apps that try to block telephone scammers, they’ve likely done as good a job as they can. The apps use databases of known robocallers or scammer call centers to identify a scam call and disconnect “known” scam calls. Another entry into the field, Jolly Roger Telephone, claims it can carry out our revenge fantasies by engaging scammers and tying up their valuable time.

Unfortunately, the databases also lead to a growing number of false positives. They rely on customer feedback to some extent, and that can have negative side effects. There’s no way to know how many legitimate phone numbers get into a database for any number of reasons. A legitimate call center, including an outgoing “800” number from a bank, airline or insurance company, may get blocked, delaying vital communication between a business and a customer.

Some of us have turned to apps from our phone carriers – mobile and landline – to block calls, but we face the same problem of false positives in their databases. We can unblock specific numbers, which we had to do to take care of many of non-profit clients. We only find out about the block after a client tells us we couldn’t be reached.

Scammers have adapted to protect their income sources, and it’s a no-holds-barred world. Would it surprise you if they’ve compromised the databases? They’ve also become better at spoofing local phone numbers so that you think someone in your community is calling. Sure, it’s possible to trace a phone call back to its origin in many cases, but it’s time-consuming just to get the process started. In the meantime, the scammers don’t need a large volume of victims to make money.

But most of us increasingly don’t answer the phone unless we know the number. We put up with the incessant ringing and hope that a legitimate caller will leave a voice mail, or we wind up blocking legitimate callers.

Unfortunately, there are no prospects for a quick resolution to the problem. In the absence of any kind of international laws with enforcement teeth, it will be up to private industry to find a solution. They’ll need financial incentives to develop and maintain centralized databases and technology that can detect and block scam calls faster and more effectively.

There’s even no incentive for us to get rid of landlines. Almost every bundle from a cable or satellite provider is a “triple play” of TV, internet and telephone.

We can help you set up Nomorobo. Their service is $1.99 per month for mobile phones and devices and free for landlines. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us if you have any questions about how call blocking works and how to set up an app to meet your needs.

In the meantime, if you pick up the phone and it seems suspicious, don’t give any vital information. Hang up immediately. You can always get additional information by going online to research appropriate contact info and initiating communication.