Spam calls invade our lives constantly, and they are on the rise. According to a recent USA Today article, January 2021 averaged 129.5 million spam calls per day, an increase of 3.7% compared to December. You may not have noticed, but robocalls declined significantly in 2020. Just as offices, factories and restaurants closed during the pandemic, so did call centers. Now with the vaccine rolling out, restrictions-lifting and calling centers returning to full swing, robocalling climbs back towards pre-pandemic levels with no sign of slowing down.
No one can escape spam callers, and there is no end in sight. How did we get to this point? Business Insider boils the answer down to three distinct categories. First, technological advances make exploiting the American phone system easier, for example: with untraceable calls. Second, whether you are a legitimate business reaching out to new customers or a scammer out to steal from an unsuspecting victim, robocalling remains extremely profitable. Finally, there is hardly any legal recourse to fight telemarketers. Federal lobbyists employed by pro-robocall businesses are much better funded and represented than anti-robocall consumer groups. This leads to legal protection for businesses who thrive from a mostly unregulated telemarketing environment.
Anatomy of a spam call
The spam call really starts with a company who wants to find buyers. Sometimes this is a legitimate company selling a product and sometimes this is a scammer taking advantage of the unsuspecting. The company contracts a robocaller, usually overseas, to send a prerecorded message to millions of phones to find potential buyers of the product or vulnerable individuals. The robocaller sells qualified leads to the original company for about $6-$7 per lead.
Most people hang up immediately or leave the spam call unanswered if they do not recognize the number, but a few take the bait. When you are talking about 129 million calls per day and 1,500 calls per second, the “few” who take the bait are enough to keep robocalling highly profitable.
The nuts and bolts of spam calling
This is the journey a call takes from robocaller to your phone. A robodialer makes millions of prerecorded calls per hour for fractions of a penny.A gateway carrier takes that call and launders it into the U.S. phone system. The call passes through carriers, who are unaware of the nature of the call. The call hits your phone, and your phone rings.
What happens if you pick up and take the bait? Your phone number is inserted into an automated phone tree and you will receive a series of questions to determine if you are a target for a particular buyer. If you answer the right questions, the robocaller identifies you as a “qualified lead,” and they sell your phone number to a buyer for $6-$7, an amount that pays for thousands of more spam calls to other people.
Your number is transferred to a call center, sometimes in the U.S. and sometimes abroad. Employees of that call center call you to sell a product or service. When you buy that product or service, the company uses a large portion of that money to buy even more leads from the robocaller. The cycle continues.
With robocalls: automation equals profits
Robocalling is extremely profitable for both legitimate businesses and scammers. A couple hundred dollars pays for millions of spam calls. If only 1 out of every 10,000 calls turns into a qualified lead, and each lead sells for $7, an hour of robocalls results in $1,750 in revenue.
The system is difficult to regulate so robocalling is very low risk as well. Legitimate businesses, such as pharmacies, use robocalling to relay personal information. Carriers thrive on moving calls around, not regulating them. Should they attempt to block a robocall and it happens to be a pharmacy reaching out to a patient, it could result in a lawsuit.
How to stop robocalling
While the ability to stop robocalls completely is still a ways off, CenturyLink provides features and products to stop robocalling from invading your privacy.
- Anonymous Call Rejection – Stop unwanted calls from private numbers
- Call Rejection – Block specific phone numbers
- Do Not Disturb features – Block all incoming calls from 10p.m. to 6a.m.
- CPR V5000 Call Blocker – Use a tool to block pre-programmed and new spam calls
Finally, you can always customize your listing in the National Call Directory. This is a great way to remove sensitive information you want to keep private from spam callers.