AARP Eye Center
After declining in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, robocalls have come roaring back. Americans received 50.5 billion automated phone calls in 2021, up 10 percent from the year before, according to YouMail, which provides call-blocking and call-management services. The company estimates that 42 percent of those calls were placed by scammers.
Illegal robocalls include telemarketing spam (automated sales calls from companies you haven’t authorized to contact you) and attempts at outright theft. Prerecorded messages dangle goodies like all-expenses-paid travel or demand payment for nonexistent debts to get you to send money or give up sensitive personal data.
Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their true location, making it appear that they’re calling from a legitimate or local number to raise the odds that you’ll pick up. In a 2019 AARP survey on robocalls, 59 percent of respondents said they are more likely to answer if caller ID shows a number with their area code.
If you do, the robotic voice on the other end might claim to represent a utility, a name-brand company or a government agency. Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service are perennially popular poses, and fraud watchers noted a huge increase in phony Amazon calls as the pandemic drove more people to shop online.
Other robocall fakes might offer you a free cruise, cheap health insurance or a low-interest loan. They might claim you've won a lottery, or tell you to press a particular key to learn more or get off a call list. Pitches for sketchy car warranties have become ubiquitous, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 spam calls, according to call-security firm RoboKiller.
Whatever the message, don’t engage. Doing so can lead you to a real live scammer, who’ll pressure you to make a purchase or pump you for personal information, like a credit card or Social Security number. Even just pressing a key or answering a question alerts scammers that they’ve hit on a “live” number, and they’ll call it again and again.