According to Robokiller estimates, there were approximately 5.51 billion robocalls made in January 2023. To put that number into perspective, that equates to more than 2,000 robocalls per second.
But these calls aren't just irritating, they're also dangerous. Many of them involve some type of scam, which can be devastating for the victim — according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the median loss to scams is $1,500. Sadly, this is a concern that doesn't appear to be going away, despite laws designed to address the problem.
Staying informed is one way to protect yourself against robocalls. What are they? Where do they originate from? What are the best methods you can use to deal with them? We have the answers.
The concept behind robocalls is straightforward. Any time you pick up your landline or smartphone and hear a recorded message as opposed to a live representative from a company, that’s a robocall. Someone has pre-recorded and is sending an identical message to as many people as possible, either in an attempt to sell a product or service, scam people out of money or, in many cases, both at the same time.
Sometimes, robocalls can be very convincing — to the point where the scammer may be trying to trick you into thinking that you're talking to a live person. But if you pay close enough attention, it’ll start to feel like the person on the other end of the phone is reading from a script. That's because they aren't a "person" at all. Others are obviously recorded messages from the start, but the intent is the same: Someone, somewhere in the world is trying to take advantage of you.
Note that this is a different concept from the use of an auto dialer, although they are often employed for the same reasons. An auto dialer is a type of tool that telemarketers use to call dozens of different numbers at the same time. Then, a live representative will immediately answer and speak to whoever picks up the phone first.
The short answer to this question is "probably not."
If a company attempts to contact you in order to make a sale and you have no prior interaction with that company nor have you given them permission to contact you, that is a spam call and is illegal in the United States. Having said that, there are a few types of robocalls that are legal. You can find out more information about them below.
As outlined by the FTC, there are several types of legal robocalls, including:
By definition, many robocalls are "scam calls" because they're illegal. If a company is contacting you and you didn't previously give them permission to do so, it's against the law. If someone is already willing to do that, chances are they're trying to scam you as well. This is why you should be suspicious by default when you receive calls from numbers you don't recognize.
On that subject, even if you get a call from a name or number you do recognize, it isn't necessarily legitimate. Scammers use a technique called caller ID spoofing to mask their real number and identity.
If you pick up the phone and immediately hear a recording, you're dealing with a robocall, which could be a scam. Likewise, if you pick up the phone and hear a faint click before someone starts speaking, or a slight pause before you hear either a recording or a live representative, you've probably received a robocall that could be of concern.
Beyond that, you should be wary of many of the common phone scams that are out there. If someone calls you claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for example, and you have no prior business with them, hang up immediately. The IRS will never contact you through any other means than the United States Postal Service.
Based on the sheer volume of robocalls that happen on a daily basis, chances are if you haven't gotten one recently, you will soon. Here’s what to do if you get a robocall:
As soon as you become aware you're dealing with a robocall, hang up the phone. Don't press "0" to talk to a representative. Don't listen to the recording that is ostensibly trying to sell you something. If you didn't give express permission in the past to start getting calls from that company, the call is illegal — period.
Some robocalls you've received in the past may have begun with a question. For instance, you might have gotten some variation of the question "can you hear me?" Whatever you do, don't say "yes." This only notifies the people behind the robocall that they’re dealing with an active telephone number.
This means that they can then resell your number to other scammers at a higher price because it is "confirmed," which is only going to increase the number of calls you get in the future.
A robocaller is going to pull out every trick in the book to try to, at the very least, confirm they found a live number. You may get asked to "press '0' to speak to a representative. You could get asked to do something else entirely. Whatever you do, don't follow the instructions.
Whenever you receive a robocall, you should always head to the Internet and report it by filling out the form at ftc.gov/complaint. Although this isn't likely to stop your problem for good, the FTC can use this information to protect you and others in the future.
Don’t give out personal information. If you do, check your bank statements for fraudulent charges and (if you haven't already done so) get a copy of your credit report and look for anything suspicious that shouldn't be there.
In the unfortunate event you answer one of these calls, there’s bad news: Your number is now greenlit by the scammers, meaning they're aware it’s a functioning number with someone on the other end. This is the case even if you hang up fairly quickly and don't fall for the scam.
In the short-term, this means that they're likely to try again, possibly even from different numbers, because they’re now aware there’s a potential victim of fraud for them to take advantage of.
Thankfully, the better you get at detecting robocalls, the less likely you are to fall for them. Plus, there’s apps out there like Robokiller that can identify and protect you against scams before scammers even reach you.
Exactly what happens when you call back a spam number depends on the situation in question.
Sometimes you'll get a vague, recorded voicemail that only contains half a message. The owner of the number is hoping you'll try to call back and speak to someone for more information. Other times your phone will ring just once — again, the scammer is hoping to pique your curiosity in hopes that you'll call back.
If you do call back, it may go to an international number and you could be charged for the call. Or, the scammer might just use this technique to confirm you have an active number to contact again in the future.
The number one way to get fewer robocalls is to employ a call blocking app like Robokiller. As we touched upon earlier, scammers like to spoof numbers and scam people in myriad ways — Robokiller stays ahead of them with predictive technology that identifies bad calls before they reach your phone. To date, we’ve blocked over 1 billion scam calls and protected Americans from over $600 million in losses.
In addition, you can also register all of your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, which you can do online easily. While this does help reduce legal robocalls, there’s no guarantee placing your number on the list will prevent malicious scammers who try to go around the law. That’s why, again, an app like Robokiller is so essential.
If you do get an illegal robocall, the first thing you should always do is hang up the phone. Then, go to DoNotCall.gov and report the details of the call to the FTC. Include every detail of the call including the exact date and time. Representatives from the FTC use this information to track trends and patterns as they pertain to illegal callers, helping to put a stop to as many of them as possible.
Blocking robocalls is something you can do in one of two ways depending on your preferences.
First, on a cell phone, you can likely block the number directly. On an Apple iPhone, for example, go to the number in question in your "Call History" screen in the "Phone" app and tap the small "i" icon next to it. This will give you the option to block the number. Note that this won't stop the same scammer from calling later from a different number, nor will it stop any of the other scammers who are out there.
Second, we recommend a call blocking solution like Robokiller which, once downloaded, will stop the vast majority of robocalls from ever reaching your phone in the first place.
As stated, you can report robocalls right from your web browser by heading to the National Do Not Call Registry's website. Once the page is loaded, scroll down and click the "Continue" button. You will be asked to provide invaluable information like the phone number that made the call, when you received it, whether it was a recorded message or robocall, whether you received a phone call or text message, and more. You will even be asked to provide information pertaining to what the call was about. All of this will help the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fight as many of these calls as possible.
In the end, it's no secret that robocalls and spam calls in general are a significant problem. But that doesn't mean you can’t do something about it. You might not be able to prevent yourself from becoming a scam target, but you can prevent yourself from becoming a scam victim with Robokiller.
See the Robokiller difference for yourself: Start your free 7-day trial today.