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Americans received 50.3 billion automated phone calls in 2022 — an imperceptible decline from the 50.5 billion robocalls received in 2021, according to YouMail, a call-blocking and call-management service provider. The company estimates that 41 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 such as all-expenses-paid travel, or they 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.​​

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If you do pick up, 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, as are phony Amazon calls.

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 live scammer, who’ll pressure you to make a purchase or pump you for personal information, such as a credit card or Social Security number. Even 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.​

It’s important to note that many robocalls are legal. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows them for some informational or noncommercial purposes, such as polling, political campaigning and outreach by nonprofit groups (including AARP). Your dentist’s office can robocall you with an appointment reminder, or an airline might have news about a flight change.​

Illegal robocalls are more common than alerts, reminders and even telemarketing, according to YouMail, making it all the more important to be on guard for automated scams.​

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Warning signs

  • You receive an automated sales call from a company you have not given consent to contact you.​
  • A prerecorded message tells you to press “1” or some other key to be taken off a call list.
  • The message offers you goods or services for free or at a suspiciously deep discount.
  • The message says you owe back taxes or unpaid bills and face legal or financial consequences if you don’t pay immediately.​
  • The message says you’ve won a big lottery or sweepstakes prize and tells you to press a key or call a number to claim it.​

How to protect yourself​​

  • ​Add all your numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry operated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It won’t stop fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to spot because most legitimate telemarketers won’t call numbers on the registry.
  • Explore free and low-cost call-blocking options, such as apps and services that screen calls and weed out spam and scams. Ask your phone service provider if it offers any such tools.​
  • Verify the caller. If the robocall claims to be from, say, Social Security or your bank, hang up and look up the real number for that entity. Call and ask if it contacted you. Don’t judge a call by caller ID alone; phone numbers can be spoofed.​
  • Report scam calls to the proper authorities (see More Resources below). Every report helps authorities piece together a fuller picture of what scammers are doing.​
  • Review a company’s privacy policies before you give it permission to call you. You might be authorizing it to share your contact information with others.​​
  • Don’t press any keys or say anything in response to a prerecorded message. This lets scammers know yours is a working number and will lead to more spam calls.​​​
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More Resources

  • Report illegal robocalls to the FCC (online or at 888-225-5322) and the FTC (online or at 877-382-4357).​
  • The FCC has comprehensive online fact sheets on robocalls and caller ID spoofing with additional tips for recognizing and combating spam and scam calls.​
  • CTIA, a trade association for the U.S. wireless industry, offers lists of robocall-blocking apps for Apple and Android devices.​​

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.