Spam Calls 101: Important Facts Everyone With a Phone Should Know (Updated for 2020)
In 2019, Americans received more than 63 billion spam calls last year — up 108 percent from 2018. That’s around 168 spam calls for every person in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 5.4 million complaints about spam calls in 2019, more than any other issue.
Still, the problem is getting worse. In 2020, the FTC reported an influx of COVID-19 robocall scams. Spam calls are an epidemic of their own. Research from April suggests that more than half of all calls people receive are now spam.
Thankfully, there are various solutions to fight back against this epidemic. In this comprehensive guide to spam calls, we’ll cover the following:
- What are Spam Calls?
- Why Do You Receive Spam Calls?
- Why Traditional Methods of Blocking Spam Calls Don’t Work
- How to Put a Permanent End to the Spam Calls You Receive
What are spam phone calls?
Spam calls are irrelevant, inappropriate calls sent to a large number of recipients who have not expressed interest in receiving these calls. Spam calls are annoying, irritating, and infuriating. But they’re also dangerous. Really dangerous. Spam callers want to steal something from you. Your Social Security number. Your credit card number. Your life savings.
Without the right anti-spam call solution, there’s not much you can do to stop these dangerous calls. There’s little legislation that protects Americans from this problem, so everyone is at risk. Everyone.
“But I’d never be stupid enough to hand over my personal details on the phone!” we hear you say. Well, anyone can fall victim to a phone scam. It doesn’t matter if you have a degree from Harvard or not.
Protip: Was that a spam call or not? Enter the number into RoboKiller’s Phone Lookup and discover the latest scams for free.
Why are spam calls such a threat to your and your smartphone?
Spam calls are dangerous because they are illegal. In May 2020 alone, Americans received 3.02 billion illegal robocalls. (That’s just one month!) To put this into context, there were more robocalls in May than the entire population of the United States, China, and the whole of Africa combined. That’s a LOT of robocalls.
Robocalls come from all over the world. They come without warning. They come when you least expect it. But they all have one goal:
To steal your identity or money (or both).
What motivates spammers? We’re not sure. But, face it, spam call economics are attractive. Spammers spend around $438 million on robocalls every year, and these calls generate a return of around $6 billion! That’s a huge profit margin.
Which area codes in the US received the most robocalls last month? You might be surprised! Click here for the latest robocall insights.
Illegal spam calls: What to look out for
Illegal spam calls are far more dangerous than they are a nuisance, simply because they have no regard for any government communication laws in the United States. Though the contents of the call may vary, they are all calling to steal something from you.
Illegal spam calls fall into two subcategories; illegal robocalls and illegal scam calls:
Illegal Robocalls: Any non-emergency phone call containing a pre-recorded message that you have not given written permission to receive. These illegal calls can actually come from legally registered businesses of which are not appropriately following the law, such as the Resort Marketing Group, or illegal scammers that aim to pose as a legal organization in order to steal from you.
Illegal Scam Calls: Calls that are typically from a real person, which aim to steal your money, personal identity, or both. The most well known is the IRS Phone Scam, which has been reported to have collected nearly $14 million in fraudulent payments from unsuspecting consumers since 2013.
The quickest way to identify if the spam call you have received is illegal is to recall if you have ever opted-in to receiving phone calls from this organization or robocaller. If you haven’t opted-in, there is a good chance that phone call is illegal spam.
Are there kinds of spam calls that are considered legal?
Yes. Some legitimate companies can call your cell phone or landline. But only under some conditions. Here are some of the spam calls approved by the US government:
- Telemarketing and cold calls: Calls from a legitimate business where a telemarketer requests the purchase of a legitimate product/service. Determine if the call is legit by asking the company to validate themselves.
- Legal robocalls: Legal pre-recorded audio messages where an organization communicates necessary consumer information. The keyword here is necessary. This means flight cancellations, appointment reminders, school updates, and credit card fraud alerts.
- Market research and legal charities: These calls can be annoying, but they are generally legal. Note: The law requires callers to identify themselves and provide a phone number at the start of the message.
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Why do you receive spam phone calls?
There are various reasons why you receive spam calls. However, it could just be random.
You can reduce the chances of receiving spam calls by doing the following:
- Check if your phone number is publicly available in Google or other search engines. Phone numbers can be associated with public social media profiles and scraped by spammers. You can easily remove your phone number from Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
- You might not be able to remove your phone number if you need it for business purposes. Real estate agents and small business owners, for example, rely on customers to call them. You need to weigh up the pros and cons of removing your number from the internet.
- You can add your number to the Do Not Call Registry, which “gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls. You can register your home or mobile phone for free.”
- You can try to find out whether legitimate companies have added your number to something called a “call list.” These companies sell call lists to other companies for marketing and cold calling purposes. Again, this is legal, but these companies have to comply with FTC and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules or face fines.
The truth is, though, spam callers don’t really care whether you remove your phone number from Facebook. Or whether you sign up for the Do Not Call Registry. Spammers can find your number anywhere. Once they have your number, they will contact you.
Often, spammers just dial numbers at random. They use special auto-dialing technology and other tricks. The goal? To steal your identity or money. It’s as simple as that.
Here’s what usually happens, according to the FTC:
- A spammer finds your number from somewhere. It could be online or through nefarious means.
- The spammer calls your number to establish whether it’s real/active.
- The spammer calls your number again to sell a fake product or pretend to be from the government or trick you into handing over your personal/financial details.
- If the spammer is unsuccessful, your number will be flagged as “try again.”
- The spammer calls your number again.
As you can see, it’s a vicious cycle.
A spammer wants to get under your skin. You might receive several calls a week (or a day). This can be relentless. This can be infuriating. You might think that the spammer will give up if you ignore their calls. But this isn’t always the case.
Spam calls are going on right now, and they haven’t slowed down because of a pandemic. This is because spammers aren’t decent people.
From Jan. 1-April 15, the FTC received 18,235 complaints about COVID-19-related spam, and Americans lost more than $13 million because of fraud.
Recommended reading: COVID-19 Phone Scam Report: 35% Fewer Robocalls, But the Risk is Higher Than Ever
Why traditional methods of blocking spam calls don’t work
When Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone, he didn’t think spammers would use his invention to steal money. But, unfortunately, this is the case. Let’s look at the most recent spam call statistics. In the period from January-October 2019, the following happened:
- Spam calls grew 18 percent worldwide.
- There were a total of 26 billion spam calls around the world.
- The US became the eighth-most spammed country in the world.
- 43 million Americans were scammed.
- Americans lost $10.5 billion because of spam calls.
You might think smartphone manufacturers would have sold this problem by now. But they haven’t. Sure, there’s “call blocking” technology on most new iPhone and Android models, but this won’t stop robocalls and scam calls. We’ll tell you why…
There’s something called phone spoofing
You need to hear about something called “phone spoofing.” It’s when spam callers pretend to call from a phone number that’s different from their real phone number. It’s easier for spammers to do this than you think, and it happens all the time.
Then there’s a type of phone spoofing called “neighbor spoofing,” where spammers pretend to call from somewhere in your neighborhood.
We created a really awesome guide about phone spoofing/neighbor spoofing here. Check it out!
With neighbor spoofing, you might think that someone really important is calling you. Your friend. Your boss. Your doctor. Someone from the local police department.
But it could be a spammer.
Spam callers place spoofed calls from unique, fake numbers. The government and law enforcement don’t have the resources to trace these numbers, and it’s unlikely they ever will. Spammers don’t care anyway. Spoofed calls are cheap to make — about a cent, or even less, per call.
‘Do Not Call’ doesn’t fight illegal spam calls
Not a lot of people know this, but the Do Not Call Registry doesn’t stop illegal spam calls. We mentioned before that Do Not Call might prevent some spammers, but it’s not going to stop all of them. It won’t hurt to register, but don’t think this is an all-encompassing solution because it”s not.
Sick of spam? Come join the RoboKiller Task Force! RoboKiller has blocked more than 1 million spam calls and counting. It’s the app that stops spammers forever! Get started with a 7-day free trial here!
Reporting spam calls to the government won’t help, either
You might think that reporting spam callers to the government will stop the problem. But it won’t. Not really. OK, filing a report with the FTC helps the government identify common tactics used by spammers, and this might prevent some victims from being targeted, but the problem is just too big to control. The government lacks the technological resources to stop spam calls for good.
The government is definitely thinking up new ways to solve the issue. One of the most significant recent developments happened last year when the FCC announced a new framework of standards for fighting spam callers called STIR/SHAKEN. It’s far too complicated to describe in its entirety here, but this protocol utilizes digital certificates to ensure incoming calls are secure. The problem is, STIR/SHAKEN doesn’t prevent spammers from actually contacting you. It only tells you if a call is likely to be spam. We’ve already mentioned that spammers use all kinds of spoofed numbers to trick you so, while it’s a good idea, STIR/SHAKEN doesn’t do much at all.
Your phone probably doesn’t have very good spam-fighting features
Your phone manufacturer might claim the latest model fights spam but this is, for the most part, just sales talk. We can’t think of any phone models that prevent spam callers from reaching you. The technology just isn’t there yet.
Read what the FTC says about this topic below:
“Many mobile phones come equipped with features built into the device that can block calls from specific numbers. These features can let consumers block specific contacts, identify unwanted incoming calls for future blocking, and set ‘do not disturb’ hours. You must manage these lists on your own, and the device may limit the number of calls you can block.”
Read the last sentence again: “You must manage these lists on your own.” Who has the time to do this? Not us. The truth is, the call-blocking feature on your phone won’t stop spam callers from contacting you. Block as many numbers as you like, but spammers will just call you from different numbers. It’s exhausting.
Recommended reading: Why is Call Screening the Future of the Phone Call?
LIFE HACK: Here’s the only way to end spam calls for good
Forget about Do Not Call. And STIR/SHAKEN. And the call-blocking feature on your phone. There is only one way to end spam calls. It doesn’t require you to change your number. Or manually block calls. Or do anything else that wastes your time…
The only way to stop spam calls is to stop spam callers from contacting you in the first place. This way, they can’t steal your identity. Or money. Or time. But if your phone manufacturer can’t stop spam callers contacting you, and the government can’t, and the police can’t, who can?
The answer is in your phone. But just not where you think it is.
Third-party call-blocking apps are the only solution in the battle against spam callers. These apps prevent spammers from contacting you in the first instance. As a result, you don’t have to block them. Or even talk to them.
Here’s what the FTC says about downloading a third-party app on your phone:
“Call blocking apps let you create blacklists — lists of numbers to block from calling your cell phone. Many of these apps also create their own blacklist databases from numbers that have received significant consumer complaints. They also let you create whitelists — numbers to allow — that are broader than just your personal contacts.”
As you can see, these apps are invaluable. Without them, spammers will continue to call your number and make your life a misery. Many spam call blocking apps were created by people like you — people who hate spam calls so much they wanted to do something about the problem.
The great thing is you’ll find these call-blocking apps in the App Store and Google Play. As we said, the solution has been on your phone all this time.
OK, let’s tell you about RoboKiller
Not all call-blocking apps are the same, mind. Some don’t work properly. Others have really bad reviews. RoboKiller is completely different. We’re the No. 1 rated app for fighting spam. Period.
Still not convinced? The FTC named us the winner of its “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” competition and gave us a $25,000 prize. Earlier this year, we won a Webby Award for Technological Achievement in the Apps, Mobile, and Features category. We’ve featured on “ABC World News Tonight” and NBC. We’ve appeared in Wired and Ars Technica.
We’re different from the other call-blocking apps because our app doesn’t just stop spam calls. We give you the power to fight back against spammers — and give them a taste of their own medicine! Our Answer Bots let you take revenge on spammers by playing funny pre-recordings that keep them on the phone for hours.
What RoboKiller features are new for 2020?
We’re updating RoboKiller all the time. Here are some of our favorite features available right now:
- We block more than 300 million spam numbers. You only receive the calls you want.
- Neighbor spoofing? Not a problem. We know the difference between spammers and people you know.
- Personalized one-tap allow/block lists that give you more control.
- Stop spam texts too!
Fight spam calls in 2020
Unfortunately, spam calls aren’t going anywhere in 2020. But you can certainly stop spammers from calling you. RoboKiller ensures your private information is protected from people trying to steal your identity and money. Come join the RoboKiller Taskforce and enjoy a spam-call-free smartphone!