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Consumers Want Lawmakers to Crack Down on ‘Annoying’ Robocalls

AARP survey finds many people get seven or more disruptive calls a week

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Nine in 10 Americans believe lawmakers should do more to crack down on annoying robocalls, according to a national survey conducted for AARP.

But most people surveyed said they don’t take proactive steps to limit the barrage of these unwanted calls, which according to one estimate reached nearly 48 billion in 2018, a 57 percent jump from a year earlier.

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Nearly half of the survey respondents, or 49 percent, estimated they receive seven or more robocalls in a typical week and 11 percent said they had been victimized by a phone scam at some point. Such scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The AARP findings were released Wednesday in a report called “Who’s Really on the Line?”

The survey asked about robocalls and spoofing, which occurs when a bad actor disguises the phone number being used to place a call.

Ninety-seven percent of respondents said they can see the name, phone number or other information about who is calling them on at least one of their phones, but just 35 percent subscribe to a caller ID service on any of their phones.

Most respondents, 71 percent, are aware spoofing happens; they know that when they do not recognize a name or number appearing on their device or on caller ID, the area code or prefix is “not at all likely” or “not very likely” to be authentic.

But if the call appears to arise from a local area code, 59 percent said they would likely answer the call and 44 percent said they would pick up if the area code matched one used by a relative or close friend.

Survey respondents also were given 14 hypothetical, phone-scam scenarios and asked how likely they would be to ask the caller for more information.

The survey found people are more likely to be ensnared by scam pitches involving threatened losses—“You owe unpaid taxes” or “You are facing jail time for missing jury duty”—than those promising rewards—“You’ve won the foreign lottery” or “You qualify for a free vacation.”

More respondents, 51 percent, said they would respond to a negative scenario than the 41 percent who said a positive pitch would prompt them to engage.

Landline-only users rare

People who rely exclusively on landline phones were a minority of those surveyed: only 3 in every 100 people asked.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they use only mobile phones and 36 percent use both a landline and mobile phone.

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Other key findings:

Fewer people, about 16 percent, said some of their numbers were registered.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said none of their phone numbers was registered, and 23 percent weren’t sure.

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Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud-prevention programs, urges people to use caution when the phone rings.

“Be wary when you pick up the phone,” she said. “A number that looks familiar or local may be neither familiar nor local.”

Con artists, she added, “have become increasingly sophisticated and devious, and once they connect with you and get you talking it’s far too easy to fall prey to their schemes.”

'Annoying' and 'Disruptive'

If you’re bothered by the all-too-frequent pitches touting lower-interest credit cards, free trips or no-cost estimates for solar panels, you’re in good company: 94 percent of the people surveyed called robocalls “annoying” and 90 percent deemed them “disruptive.”

Even though the calls trigger negative emotions, large majorities of people said they don’t bother to alert authorities to attempted phone scams, calls from fake or misleading numbers or automated telemarketing calls.

When asked about robocalls received in the past month, respondents said most often they had heard about a product or program for which they reportedly qualified, such as a low-interest credit card.

The other top pitches involved sales calls or news that they had won a free trip or gift card.

The survey of 1,852 adults was conducted April 8-19 by NORC at the University of Chicago and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

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