En español | Robocall volume jumped in June, with Americans receiving 4.4 billion calls that were either scams or telemarketing pitches, an industry estimate says. That's an earful: an average of 13.5 robocalls calls for every man, woman and child in the U.S. For some, the annoyance factor leapt as they were bombarded by even more nuisance calls. Phone numbers in the top 10 area codes received on average at least one scam or telemarketing call every single day of the month.
The estimates are from YouMail, a California-based robocall-blocking company that tallies robocalls, where they go and what they try to persuade consumers to do, such as renew a car warranty.
Atlanta area is No. 1
The Atlanta region had the unhappy distinction of having the top area code for robocalls per capita; numbers in area code 404 were bombarded with an average of 55 robocalls in June. The Memphis, Tennessee, region (area code 901) was second, and the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area (225) third.
Alex Quilici, YouMail's CEO, says some of his firm's 10 million customers report getting upwards of 100 robocalls a month.
Josh Harmon, who lives in Midtown Atlanta, says he gets at least three robocalls a day. The deluge — especially for car warranties — has been going on for more than a year.
"It's definitely annoying,” says Harmon, 33. And it's not just the interruption that's irritating, since he feels like avoiding robocalls sometimes makes him miss legitimate phone calls. “I'm less inclined to even want to answer my phone at all, especially if it's a number I don't recognize."
On the rare occasion Harmon is expecting a call from a number not in his contacts and he does pick up, “9 out of 10 times it's always a robocall.”
Faridah Somani, 50, lives in Atlanta's northern suburbs where her 770 area code gets far fewer robocalls than 404 does. Still, she and her husband between them get a car warranty call about every other day, and those irritations have grown since they bought a car for their daughter.
Somani, who works for the federal government, signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry years ago — a list bad actors ignore. When she gets a call from number she does not recognize, she doesn't answer. “If it's something urgent they will leave a message,” she reasons. From her government work she knows to ignore the crooks who pretend they work for the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service. When the federal government needs to contact you, “we send you a letter,” Somani says.
Robocalls on the rise
Nationally, robocalls were up 11 percent from May's nearly 4 billion calls, which Quilici attributes to call centers in India reopening after COVID-19 lockdowns. While robocalls are automated, scammers need a person on hand if a call recipient, when asked, presses “1” or another number.
Southerners were hardest hit in June. The top 10 area codes for robocalls per capita were either in Southern states — Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama — or in Washington, D.C.
Georgia, the Peach State, was ripe for robocalls. After Atlanta, three other area codes in Georgia made the top 10 list: in the Macon region (area code 478), Albany area (229) and Savannah area (912).
State's top law enforcement official issues warning
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr warned residents in May about a scam robocall impersonating his own office. A recorded message said the office was calling about “your case” and told recipients to press “1” to avoid negative consequences. Carr told residents to be on alert, saying: “We encourage citizens to learn the warning signs of these impostor scams so they don't lose money or divulge personal or financial information to a fraudster.”
Why is the South so popular with telemarketers and scammers?
"People are more polite, so they're more likely to answer the phone,” Quilici says, and successful pickups make robocallers more likely to call an area again.
The South also has pockets of poverty, and those areas may be targeted for illegal pitches about easy money or financial relief, he says.
To see where your area code ranks, click here.
Robocalls to Do Not Call Registry numbers about payments due or overdue bills are legal; so are appointment reminders or alerts about school closings. Political calls, debt-collection calls and those from health care providers, such as a pharmacy calling about a prescription, also are legal. Illegal, though, are automated calls trying to sell you something or offering, for example, debt-reduction services.
Possible respite from the noise
U.S. consumers may get a temporary break from these nuisance calls this summer. A new federal regulation to stop call “spoofing” — where a number is faked to make it seem local or legitimate — has gone into effect, and YouMail already has seen a dip in robocall volume for July.
In June, about 39 percent of the robocalls were scams, chiefly about car warranties or health-related frauds, which can pertain to Medicare, disability assistance fraud or the sale of junk insurance, Quilici says.
Payment reminders were 13 percent of the calls; alerts and other reminders, 24 percent; and telemarketing calls, 24 percent.
YouMail estimates robocalls based on those its users receive and keeps a database of the calls, including scams, and compares incoming calls to those already identified because of the call properties or originating number.
Unfortunately, Quilici expects robocall volumes to increase since scammers always look for new ways to reach targets. For now, he says, “everybody should enjoy the vacation from robocalls for a month or two."
Tips to Avoid Robocalls and Scams
• Get a robocall-blocking app. Try a free solution such as Nomorobo or YouMail, which are carrier-agnostic. (Nomorobo is free for landlines and $1.99 a month for cellphones.) Your mobile carrier may have free tools, too.
• Let a call go to voicemail if you don’t recognize the caller. If you need to call back, do not use the number the robocall gave. Instead, use a number you know is legitimate, such as one on a statement, credit card or company website.
• Don't trust caller ID or who robocallers say they are.
• Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. If you do, hang up immediately. Do not hit any buttons, even if the call asks you to press a number in order to stop getting the calls. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says.
• Here's more from the FCC on call-blocking tools and resources.
Kathryn Masterson is a writer who previously worked for the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. Her byline also has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington City Paper.