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How Common Are Robocalls?

November 27, 2018

More than half of phone owners receive at least one robocall per day, according to our survey of 687 people. Robocalls are not just annoying, though – they are dangerous. More than one in five robocall recipients have revealed private information to a robocall before.

Robocalls are a widespread scourge, annoying most people daily.

Data shows that Americans received nearly 38.1 billion robocalls from January to October 2018. Many of these calls pester people with unwanted marketing pitches or worse, try to scam them to share personal information or money.

Clutch surveyed 687 people who own phones and have received robocalls to analyze how many and what types of robocalls people receive.

This report offers insight into how dire the robocall situation currently is, and how it got to this point. Use this report to better understand the impact of robocalls on individuals and relationships between businesses and customers.

Our Findings

  • More than half of people (52%) receive a robocall at least once per day, and 39% receive multiple robocalls per day.
  • More than one-fifth of people (21%) have either accidentally or intentionally given their private information to a robocaller.
  • Nearly half of people (44%) receive a robocall with the same area code as their personal phone number at least once per day.
  • Robocalls most commonly relate to health topics, with 22% of respondents receiving these calls regularly. Experts say scammers are taking advantage of the recent political debate over healthcare.
  • More than one-third of people (35%) receive unsolicited marketing text messages at least once per day.

Most People Receive a Robocall Every Day

Robocalls are increasingly common, despite attempts to curb them.

More than half of people (52%) say they receive a robocall at least once a day.

More than half of people receive robocalls daily graph

More than one-quarter (26%) receive robocalls multiple times a week.

The robocall issue continues to grow. In 2017, Americans received roughly 30.5 billion robocalls. At this report’s publication, data for 2018 was only available through October. Yet, the tally for only 10 months of 2018 stands at 38.1 billion – a 20% increase from the 2017 year-end total.

Robocalls are a monumental issue, with serious repercussions.

One in Five Have Shared Private Information with a Robocall Before

Robocalls aren’t just a nuisance – they are legitimately dangerous.

More than one-fifth of people (21%) have either accidentally or intentionally given their private information such as a credit card or Social Security number to a robocaller.

21% of respondents have accidentally or intentionally given their private information to a robocall

Robocalls often seek private information for malicious purposes.

From late 2017 into 2018, New York City’s police department received complaints from 30 individuals who were collectively scammed out of about $3 million.

The robocalls were conducted in Mandarin to target Chinese immigrants, and the callers claimed to be from a Chinese consulate office. The calls falsely told recipients that the Chinese police had intercepted a package addressed to them and the package was now connected to a criminal case. The robocall ordered the recipient to transfer money to a Hong Kong bank account to resolve the case.

The robocalls preyed on Chinese immigrants’ potential fears of surveillance or deportation – and successfully exploited them.

As robocall scammers become more sophisticated, more innocent people may become victims, potentially losing money or exposing their private information.

Why Are Robocalls Difficult to Stop?

Despite robocalls’ dangers, they are difficult to stop. It’s surprisingly simple to run a robocall operation.

Robocalls are prevalent because they:

  • Are easy to conduct on a large scale
  • Require little financial investment
  • Can be placed from anywhere

First, robocalls require minimal human labor, since the calls are automated. The plummeting cost of making phone calls further contributes to the issue.

Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a service for blocking robocalls, explained how easy it is to conduct robocalls based on his experience working to thwart them.

“I can literally go to a website, upload an audio file, put in a range of phone numbers, use a prepaid debit card, and annoy San Francisco for $400 to $500,” Quilici said. “When it’s that easy to commit a crime, criminals will commit it.”

The ease of placing robocalls increases their frequency. Second, scammers no longer need a high success rate to justify a large robocall operation.

“When phone charges used to be high, only the most lucrative types of calls with a high success ratio made sense,” said Alan Majer, CEO of Good Robot, an internet of things (IoT) development firm.

“Now, with call prices rapidly approaching zero, all kinds of applications make economic sense,” Majer said. “If a robocaller only generates one success with every 500 calls, the economics may still work. That's bad news for anyone with a phone number.”

Robocalls are an easy, low-cost, and low-risk financial investment for many scammers.

Third, it’s difficult to determine where robocalls are coming from. Thanks to Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology, it’s relatively easy to “spoof” a phone number, so the caller ID displays a different number than the one that is actually calling you.

“Illegal telemarketing operations could be generating their calls from overseas,” said Rick Dionisio, senior vice president of operations of RingBoost, a custom phone number retailer. “That makes law enforcement or fines nearly impossible to levy.”

These factors increase the number of robocalls, even as protests against them grow louder.

Both individuals and businesses face the consequences, as robocalls continue to pester people and potentially erode their trust in phone calls.

The “Neighbor Spoofing” Phenomenon Misleads Phone Owners

Robocall scammers mislead people by calling from local area codes, causing people to believe the call is coming from a neighbor or local business, which increases the chances that they’ll answer.

Nearly half of people (44%) receive a robocall with a phone number that matches the area code of their personal phone number at least once a day.

Neighbor spoofing graph

These calls may feature the same area code, or even the same area code and prefix (i.e., the first six numbers of the phone number).

These spoofing calls are dangerous due to their ability to trick people. They are also worrisome because scammers use actual phone numbers to dupe people – leading real businesses and people to face the consequences.

At RingBoost, Vice President of Marketing Ellen Sluder notices that robocallers sometimes spoof her company’s legitimate vanity phone numbers.

“People call back and think RingBoost was calling them,” Sluder said. “We try very patiently to explain to them what the situation is.”

These scams can involve sensitive information, increasing the stakes for both the callers being scammed and the businesses whose phone numbers are spoofed.

“Recently, there was a scam where people claimed to be from a Social Security office and tricked others into giving their Social Security numbers,” Sluder said. “When the receiver of the call dialed back, they would get RingBoost’s support department, and we’d have to explain to them what happened.”

This awkward exchange can negatively impact both individuals and businesses.

Overall, people should be wary of most unknown phone numbers, even ones that seem to call from a local number.

Health Scams Most Common Among Robocalls

Robocall scams cover a number of topics, from debt reduction to free timeshares. Our data reveals that most robocalls relate to health topics.

Among people who self-identify as “likely to answer calls from unknown numbers,” nearly one-quarter (22%) say most robocalls involve health topics.

Graph of most common robocall topics

Robocall scammers often try to stay timely to maximize their chances of success.

“The scammers try to figure out ways they can leverage what’s going on in the world to do their scams,” Quilici said.

Government officials continue to debate the issue of healthcare, keeping the topic top of mind for many Americans. Recent changes repealed the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act and lessened restrictions on short-term, non-ACA-compliant plans.

Robocall scammers latched onto the topic, trying to sell short-term or “skinny” insurance plans. The plans offer poor health insurance coverage, and many states are moving to ban them.

Other robocallers simply attempt to scam people out of their Social Security number or credit card number, promising health insurance that never materializes.

Robocalls prey on innocent people by tricking them with timely and sensitive topics.

One-Quarter of Phone Owners Receive Multiple Spam Text Messages a Day

Phone calls are no longer the only way to defraud people. Scammers also send unsolicited text messages.

More than one-third of people (35%) receive unsolicited marketing text messages from unknown numbers daily. One-quarter (25%) receive multiple spammy texts a day.

Unsolicited marketing text messages graph

These text messages may advertise a product, or seek to gain people’s private information.

Similar to robocalls, it is illegal to send unsolicited text messages from an auto-dialer, which randomly generates numbers and sends messages.

If you’d like to text your customers, you can do so legally. Text message marketing is legal if the recipient opted into communication with the company, or if it’s a non-commercial message such as a political survey.

According to SlickText, a text and SMS marketing solution, other best practices include:

  • Texting only during normal waking hours
  • Including disclaimers such as “messaging and data rates may apply”
  • Providing an exit, or way to unsubscribe from the texts

Consumers should handle spam text messages by ignoring them, not clicking any links, and, if they receive cellular service through a major provider, reporting them.

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and Bell subscribers can report spam texts by copying the message and forwarding it to 7726 (SPAM). This service is free.

While unsolicited text messages aren’t as big an issue as robocalls yet, they can still be dangerous.

Robocalls Are a Nuisance and a Threat

Robocalls frustrate the majority of people daily. These scams are difficult to stop given the ease, low cost, and anonymity of making robocalls.

Robocalls can “spoof” phone numbers and often pretend to call from local area codes, tricking people into believing a neighbor or local business is calling them.

Robocalls most commonly relate to health topics. Robocall scammers often take advantage of timely topics, such as the recent political debate over healthcare.

While not as common as robocalls, more than one-third of people receive at least one unsolicited marketing text message daily.

Robocalls pose a significant risk to people as scammers find more sophisticated ways to steal private information. Their prevalence may erode trust in phone calls, specifically those from unknown numbers.

About the Survey

This survey features 687 respondents who own and regularly use a mobile or landline phone and who receive robocalls. Most respondents use a mobile phone (83%), while 17% use a landline phone.

More than half of the respondents (55%) are female, while 45% are male.

The survey includes the following age groups: 18 to 24 (14%), 25 to 34 (24%), 35 to 44 (25%), 45 to 54 (13%), 55 to 64 (12%), and 65+ (12%).

Most respondents are located in the South (36%), 22% are located in the Midwest, 21% in the West, and 17% in the Northeast.