You can call every phone in L.A. for $1,000? Why the economics of robocalling make life easy for scammers

In the digital age, crime is often all about economies of scale.  Many of the tools we’ve built make things very easy for criminals. It’s cheap to send millions of emails, so spam is a problem. You probably knew that.  But you might not know how cheap it is to carpet-bomb the world with scam phone calls. I was told recently that a criminal can call every telephone in Los Angeles for $1,000 or so.

If you are a criminal, these numbers work for you. Figure one successful scam might net a couple of thousand bucks, and that means it pencils out to call everyone in Los Angeles looking for one single victim.

And this plays out in the real world. In the so-called “car crash scam,” criminals randomly dial hundreds of thousands of numbers, looking for someone who was recently in a car crash.  When they get a lucky “hit,” it’s fairly easy to convince a traumatized victim that they must pay upfront cash to trigger their auto insurance coverage.

Pause and think about this for a moment: We’ve made it cost-effective for criminals to randomly dial entire cities, looking for just a couple of people who fit the profile of an easy mark for the scam they are running. Our technology is being used against us.

This is some of what I learned during my discussion with Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a company that fights robocalls.  For years, telecommunications firms have held press conferences and Congress has held hearings on robocalls, but it seems like the problem continues to get worse. I don’t know about you, but I don’t bother answering my phone when a call comes in from a number I don’t recognize.

That’s bad enough — I’m a journalist. My work often benefits when I hear from people I don’t know.  I’ll bet yours does, too. But in the world of crime, robocalls are much more than a nuisance.  I interview scam victims every week. A large number of scams begin with an unexpected phone call — often from a criminal using a spoofed number that makes it appear as if the call is coming from the Internal Revenue Service or the FBI. Tens of thousands of calls are placed looking for 1 or 2 victims.

It’s too easy, and it’s too cheap. If we want to stop the scourge of scams, we need to get robocalls under control.  That begins with at least altering the economies of scale which make things so easy for the bad guys.

People *are* trying.  You can hear more about what’s being done, or at least what’s being attempted, if you listen to the most recent episode of The Perfect Scam by clicking the play button below or visiting the podcast website. Or, if you prefer reading, a transcript is below.

——————–Transcript———————-

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[00:00:51] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam and this bonus episode all about robocalls. We’ve all heard them, we all hate them, but for some reason, we just can’t seem to get rid of them. Did you know that there’s one billion robocalls, that’s billion with a “b,” every week. And the typical American gets 200 or so every year. Although, I feel like I get that many just about every week. Why are robocalls so darn hard to stop? Why are they such a big part of scams in America today? And what can you do to protect yourself from them? Well we have a special guest on today to help you with all of that.

[00:01:33] I’m Alex Quilici, and I’m the CEO of YouMail.

[00:01:36] Bob: And what is YouMail?

[00:01:32] Alex Quilici: So YouMail is a company that tries to prevent robocalls from bothering consumers. We have an app that consumers use, and we work with carriers to help them find the bad guys who are making calls on their network so that they can shut them off.

[00:01:51] Bob: Somebody’s going to wonder why are you named YouMail then.

[00:01:54] Alex Quilici: So it’s a long story. We started off as a voicemail service.

[00:01:59] Bob: The long story is they’ve been around long enough that they started out as a company designed to protect voicemail. Alex and his company have data on literally hundreds of billions of robocalls through the years, so he’s got a lot of shocking things to say, but here’s the most shocking. We were discussing one particular kind of scam known as the “car crash scam,” we’ll get to what that is, and he said something that just blew my mind.

[00:02:28] Alex Quilici: These, these guys are clever, right, and so one of the interesting things is robocalling’s really cheap. So you can call a lot of people, you know, talking about their car crash, and finally get someone who was in a car crash, right. And so all the other people are like, I don’t know, I wasn’t in a car crash. What’s this about? And that one person’s like, oh, I was in a car crash. They must, this must be legit.

[00:02:46] Bob: Okay, wait a minute.

[00:02:47] Alex Quilici: And so, all of these scams play on that.

[00:02:49] Bob: Wait a minute. So they literally just carpet bomb up a set of numbers with a call hoping to find the one of a thousand, one of 10,000 people who’ve actually been in a car crash recently?

[00:03:01] Alex Quilici: That’s, that’s exactly right. In fact, a lot of these, I like your phrase carpet bomb. So that they call everybody. So I mean there’s two classes of scams; some that are highly targeted. So for example, a Medicare scam is going to try to call people over 65. You can get those lists. It’s pretty straightforward. But if you’re doing like a car crash or takeover a phone number or whatever, you just call everybody. The thing is, you know if you do the math, you could call everybody in LA for between two and three thousand dollars and drop one, one robocall and one voicemail to everybody in the city. So it’s very cheap. You don’t need that many people if you’ve hit 5 or 10 million folks to respond.

[00:03:38] Bob: You can call everyone in LA for a couple of thousand dollars?

[00:03:41] Alex Quilici: Yep, and in fact, you know, a good example, a few years ago there was a Chinese language robocall that was driving everybody bananas, right, and people were like, why am I getting a call in Chinese. I don’t, I don’t speak Chinese. They were calling everybody in the hopes of finding someone who spoke Chinese. It was that cheap.

[00:03:59] Bob: That is amazing. It’s, it’s hard to get my head around, wow. So now that makes sense as to why, I mean if, you know, it’s easy to think you could make two or three thousand dollars off of one successful scam, so you might call the whole city of LA looking for one victim.

[00:04:14] Alex Quilici: And in, in fact that there are some people who took it to the extreme. The FCC is trying to fine a couple of guys 200 million plus for making a billion robocalls in three months in early 2019 trying to get leads for really poor quality health insurance plans. Think about that. A billion calls, and it was two guys.

[00:04:35] Bob: That’s, I mean it’s basically calling half the people on earth.

[00:04:39] Alex Quilici: (laugh) Or calling everybody in America, you know four or five times, right.

[00:04:43] Bob: Yeah, yeah, these, I mean these numbers are just staggering to swallow. Wow.

[00:04:47] Bob: Staggering indeed. So let’s back up. Robocalls. Unwanted calls. Automated calls. They are really frustrating. Everyone seems to hate them, including cell phone carriers, including Congress. So I asked Alex, why are they so darn hard to stop?

[00:05:07] Bob: So, robocalls. I, I doubt if I walked down the street and, and I could throw words in the air that would make people’s faces turn red and get angry. I doubt there are many words that would make people more angry than just the word “robocall.” We all hate robocalls. I, myself, have just stopped answering my phone as a result of robocalls. And we’ve been dealing with this problem for, well your company’s been dealing with it, with it for seven years. People have been dealing with this for longer than that. Why is it so darn hard to stop robocalls?

[00:05:43] Alex Quilici: It’s so hard to stop robocalls because it’s so easy technically to make huge numbers of them. And so it’s also very cheap. So if, when you have something that’s easy to do and cheap and provides high returns, the bad guys are going to take advantage of it, and that’s what’s happened.

[00:06:00] Bob: But there are many people who will say um, you know, I pay good money for this Verizon cell phone service, or this T-Mobile cell phone service. Why can’t they stop it? So why can’t they stop it?

[00:06:09] Alex Quilici: It’s a really hard problem. So, you know, if you think about email as an, as an analogy, there’s still spam and scam emails hitting people every day. And so the bad guys are constantly trying different techniques, they’re evolving, they, they’re working really hard at getting through. And so it’s a cat and mouse game and it’s very hard for the carriers and others technologically to stop these calls.

[00:06:33] Bob: You know, I’ll, I’m glad you brought up the emails, (inaudible) of email spam issue because I, I do think for a, in large part, the spam issue has been solved. Um, you know, 15, 20 years ago, spam threatened to make email almost useless. And you know, now I, even when I use a free service like Gmail, for the most part the spam is under control. Is, is robocalling technically harder than spam for some reason?

[00:06:58] Alex Quilici: It, it is harder. I mean one of the things you have with email is you have the content of the, the email message. And so they can build the AI algorithms to look at the content of every email, and decide, is this something that you get through or not. You can look at URLs and see if the URLs are behaving well. There’s a whole host of techniques. And, you know, over the 15 years or so you mentioned, they’ve evolved and gotten better and better. This stuff, you know, stuff still gets through. With robocalling, you’ve got to call. So a call’s coming in from a phone number, you’ve got to decide right away if you’re a carrier, should I, should I block it. If you’re a third party app, should I block it generally based on the phone number and past experience with that phone number. So it’s much, a much harder problem to solve to stop the robocalls.

[00:07:43] Bob: That’s interesting. You don’t have all of the other information like the email and, and links that are within the email and, and all of that. That, that makes um, good sense to me. But boy, it still is, is really irritating.

[00:07:55] Bob: Carriers also have what you might think of as the opposite problem. If an email company misidentifies a message of spam, it ends up in your spam folder. Sure, that’s annoying, but there’s still a chance that you can fish it out of there. But blocking a legitimate phone call that’s misidentified as a robocall, well that can be a much bigger issue.

[00:08:18] Bob: Well the one thing we haven’t mentioned yet is God forbid a carrier block a call that is something really important from a, a job offering or a, or a, a notification of a family member is ill or something like that, right, so blocking good calls is really, can be dangerous.

[00:08:33] That, that’s absolutely right, and in fact, the bad guys know that certain numbers get answered a lot. Like, for example, uh if you’re Best Buy and you have a call back number, the bad guys know they can spoof that number and pretend they’re Best Buy and have a really good chance of the scam working. And so that means you can’t just block every call from the Best Buy number, right, because some are good and, and some are bad. And that’s what makes it so challenging and, and why it’s been hard to, to try to really go after the, the robocall problem and shut these guys down.

[00:09:03] Bob: Alex just brought up spoofing there. That’s a big part of this problem. Criminals have technology that makes it pretty easy to disguise the number they’re calling from. And worse than that, they can impersonate other people. So your phone might very well say something like, Best Buy, or even Internal Revenue Service, when it’s really a criminal calling. The Feds and the carriers are fighting this problem, however, with some recent success.

[00:09:32] Bob: Sometimes I get robocalls, we all get robocalls that either appear to be from my own number or from a number that’s very close to me. What’s going on there?

[00:09:40] Alex Quilici: So, remember I mentioned these robocallers are marketers. They’re trying to find a way for you to pick up your phone. And up until recently, it’s been very easy to simply spoof numbers. So they could just make up whatever number they want and call you with it and see if you pick it up. And so they would use your own number, they’ve used what they call local numbers or neighborhood spoofing where they pick a number in your, your prefix, all sorts of stuff. That is starting to go away. So what’s happened is there’s been a big technological improvement driven by a regulation called Stir/Shaken. And what Stir/Shaken is, is authenticated caller ID. Uh, what that really means is it’s getting much, much harder for someone to just make up a number and get through. Carriers have to vouch when they create a call that this really is a number they own, and then the carrier gets the call at the end, looks at it and says, okay, this is a legitimate number, it’s a real number, it’s not just made up, so it’s much like–, more likely to be a safe call. And so you should start seeing a lot fewer of those calls that, that pretend to be your number in your neighborhood. They’re getting blocked in the network, carriers aren’t, you know, aren’t letting them through. That, that’s all good. The bad part is, the bad guys have realized this, and now they’re getting real numbers, so they’ll get 100,000 or a million real numbers and go make calls from that. So we’ve traded one problem for another.

[00:10:57] Bob: That seems like it’s always the way, isn’t it to, that’s the definition of a cat and mouse game.

[00:11:02] Bob: Alex’s company is in an unique position to see the depth and breadth of the robocall problem. So I asked, just how many robocalls are there?

[00:11:12] Alex Quilici: So it’s roughly 50 billion a year. And that’s an enormous number of calls. If you divide that by the population of the US, it’s something like, depending on how you want to estimate it, 150 to 200 robocalls per year that’s hitting the average American consumer.

[00:11:31] Bob: So roughly one every business day, something like that?

[00:11:34] Alex Quilici: A little bit less, but that’s, that’s right.

[00:11:37] Bob: Oh boy, I don’t know, I feel like I get more like 10 or 20 a day, maybe I’m special.

[00:11:41] Alex Quilici: Uh, no, there’s lots of people getting, getting that many, and it’s usually though when people get that high volume, it’s not just, you know, bad guys, it’s things like debt collectors right. You get behind on your payments with one card, you’re probably behind on all of them, and everybody’s going to be calling you asking for payment. So there are other things that contribute to the high volume of robocalls besides just, you know, clever scammers.

[00:12:04] Bob: Well let’s go through the three most common robocall scams. What’s the first one?

[00:12:09] Alex Quilici: So the number one right now is what is the, you know, false payment, or the payment problem scam. And so this is where you get a call that’s an im–, an imposter call. It pretends to be Amazon, or pretends to be Norton, or pretends to be Apple, saying, hey, there’s a charge. You just bought an $1199 iPhone; it’s going to go through unless you call them back or you press 1 when they call. And so that’s basically trying to get you to give them information so they can take over your account or a credit card information to, so they can, you know, they’ll claim to be returning the, the $1199 back to your credit card. That one is really nasty because all of us, when we get a call like that, we think for a minute, oh, someone must have made an order. They took over my account. I’ve got to deal with it. And so there’s a sense of urgency, there’s a sense that it’s really important, it’s, you know, a thousand dollars or something big. And so we want to deal with it. And so that, that scam is really effective because it’s so many brands that are household names that these guys are being imposters of.

[00:13:12] Bob: And it’s effective because they send your emotions from zero to 10 right away, right?

[00:13:18] Alex Quilici: That’s, that’s right, and none of us want to have to deal with a $1200 charge on our credit card, right. So oh, if I can just press 1 and get rid of it, that’s great that this company’s calling me to let me know. Good, I can take care of the problem. And then it’s just downhill from there.

[00:13:33] Bob: And I also think many consumers have, have received those kinds of calls from their bank and, and en–, enjoy getting them. It’s a, they feel protected when they get them, so this doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary, right?

[00:13:44] Alex Quilici: It’s, it’s not that out of the ordinary, although you’re seeing the banks move to email and text messages, and they often say, go to the bank and log on if there’s a problem. Or, you know, go, go call the number on your debit card. So I think what consumers should do when they get one of these calls is simply ignore it. If you really feel like it might be legitimate, go find the real number for Amazon or Norton or your bank, and call them up and say, “Hey, did I have a transaction going?” And you’ll find that, you know, 99, or 999 times out of the thousand you didn’t.

[00:14:20] Bob: That’s one of the mantras of The Perfect Scam here. Just hang up and call back using the number you know. It’s the only way to avoid this. Okay, so what’s the second most common uh robocall scam?

[00:14:30] Alex Quilici: So the other really big one that’s going around is, is account takeover scams. And, and they come from a whole host of different kinds of perspectives. But the goal is to try to get you to give them information that enables them to take over, whether it’s your bank account or your Google voice number, or whatever it is you happen to have. And so these scams all work by essentially calling you and then getting you to send them like your 3-digit verification code that you get when you log on. And these are really nasty because they feel like it’s another imposter scam. They feel like your bank’s doing something for you, but you’re just giving your code to someone else who immediately uses it to log onto your account and take over your account. It’s, this one’s really harmful, because once somebody’s taken over let’s say your bank account or a phone number if you got it from a third-party service, they can do a lot of damage and they can do it really fast.

[00:15:26] Bob: And a lot of these nowadays involve that two-factor authentication text message code that we’re all used to getting, right?

[00:15:33] Alex Quilici: Exactly. And they play on that. People think of that two-factor authentication code as being something that’s really safe. Uh, the problem is your bank’s never going to ask you to put in the, the code, and so if somebody does, be really suspicious, hang up right away, and you know, call the bank or call whoever’s claiming to call you and see what’s going on.

[00:15:53] Bob: It, it strikes me that the cover story from scam 1 and scam 2 is almost the same, it’s just that they’re, the end result is different, is that right?

[00:16:00] Alex Quilici: Yeah, that, that’s right. I mean these guys are all trying to convince you to take an action; that an action’s required to keep something bad from happening. And in doing that action, you’re actually doing the bad thing. You’re enabling the, the takeover of your account or giving them your information so they can steal your identity. But yeah, it’s the same general principle.

[00:16:20] Bob: Okay, so what’s the third most common robocall scam?

[00:16:24] Alex Quilici: So the third is, is basically calling you to tell you there’s a discount on a product that’s, you know, only available to you. For example, we’ve all had the car warranty calls, right. And the car warranty calls will call and say, hey, we can get you a great deal on your warranty, it’s just now special offer. Don’t wait. And then they often either don’t have a product they’re really selling; they just collect payment information and give you nothing, or they give you some sort of really bad warranty or really bad healthcare plan that doesn’t match at all what they’re, they’re claiming to have. And these are nasty because they’re telemarketing, right, so people are used to telemarketing calls and sometimes, you know, a company you have a relationship with does call you for a discounted offer, right, you know, Sirius XM will call you because you haven’t renewed and give you a good offer for the next year. These guys are just taking advantage of that, and taking advantage of the fact that people love discounts to either defraud them completely or at least sell them something really, really sketchy.

[00:17:25] Bob: So some of these calls might actually be uh, legitimate or, or sell you something… let me back up from the word legitimate. Uh, some of these calls might actually sell you a product that’s just sort of a bad product, but other of these calls are outright scams, or are they two different things?

[00:17:39] Alex Quilici: That, they’re, they’re both. You can’t tell necessarily right away, right. But so the car warranty ones, we’ve seen both. We’ve seen outright scams where they’re just taking your money and there is no product, right, people are waiting for the, you know, the thing to show, the paperwork to show up their email address. It never shows up. There’s others where they sell a, a “warranty,” but it’s so sketchy as to be useless, right? Or it’s sold at a huge premium to, to what a similar product might be sold for. So it really is, and it’s not fraud necessarily, but it’s certainly very sketchy advertising.

[00:18:13] Bob: Okay, so here’s the bonus question for our listeners. For–, forget common robocall scams. Are there uncommon ones that you’ve heard about that are new that, that would be good for people to be aware of them?

[00:18:24] Alex Quilici: Well there’s one that I would say isn’t super common, but it’s devastating when it happens, and it’s often called the grandparent scam. But it’s usually somebody calls you, that claiming to be your grandson, your granddaughter, somebody in your life who’s in trouble, and they need money right now that they, they’re, they’re in jail, they’ve gotten in a car wreck, there’s some problem, and you’ve got to get them money and usually it winds up being they need the money in gift cards sent somewhere, and it’s, it’s not a good thing. And there’s a whole bunch of variants of this. That one is not one that’s like, you know, hundreds of millions of calls a month, but it’s a small number of calls. It tends to be very targeted. They have to have information about you to make it work, and it’s really devastating. Just on a personal note, my friend’s father got one of these, convinced his granddaughter was, you know in Mexico, or something, being kidnapped. He went to Walmart to purchase gift cards to try to rescue her, and you know, the Walmart actually recognized it as a scam, told him it was a scam, and he argued with them and didn’t believe it. And finally, the police came and sat him down and explained how this scam worked, and you know, he broke into tears because he almost gave up 10,000 bucks.

[00:19:34] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:19:35] Alex Quilici: So it’s an extremely effective scam. It plays on emotions, the person being scammed gets into it and is trying to do something great, and, and just ignores all the warning signs. There’s, there’s tons of variants of this, and it’s a really nasty scam.

[00:19:50] Bob: There are plenty more robo scams that Alex sees. In some cases, criminals can persuade victims to all back a number that automatically incurs a fee like the old 99 cent per minute 1-900 numbers.

[00:20:03] Alex Quilici: So that’s called the Wangiri Scam, which means one ring in Japanese. And so what happens is you get a call from a number, often international, and you know, you’re intrigued. They might have called three or four times and hangs up after one ring. So you call it back. The, the bad thing is the number you called back is exactly that, it’s like a $2 or $5 a minute number and you’re put on hold, and then, “oh, just a second, we’ll transfer you,” and they just try to suck in as many minutes as they can. And the number you call might be in Europe, it might be in Africa, it might be in Asia, it might be anywhere. And these work because people often know somebody in Europe. They think, oh, maybe my kid’s traveling, trying to get a hold of me. And they’re really effective. I read a few years ago, it was like 10 billion dollars that the scammers had taken with that particular scam.

[00:20:51] Bob: Um, that’s a, you know, and that’s been around forever, and that’s really hard to fix, isn’t it?

[00:20:56] Alex Quilici: Uh, I think what’s happening is the carriers are actually noticing that the numbers are spoofed. So what’s happening is you’re not getting a call from say a, a number in Europe. They’re making up the number. They could be calling you from anywhere and putting that number in, but when you call it back, that’s when you get all the charges, ’cause then you’re calling that real number. And so because of all the anti-spoofing things that are going on, it’s harder for them to fake the number. And so that one we’re seeing less of, it’s still out there, but that one I think will ultimately go away.

[00:21:27] Bob: Uh, there’s another um, and some of these things are just different names for scams we’ve already talked about a bit. But there’s the Google Voice scam, uh or at least what, what in some stories is referred to as that. Does that sound familiar?

[00:21:39] Alex Quilici: Yeah, that’s an account takeover scam. So Google Voice is a service like there’s many others where you can get a phone number, right, and with, with the phone number you can, you know, sell products and people call that number instead of calling your cell. Very, very cool idea. The scam works by basically taking the phone number away from you. And so you’ll get a, a text message saying, we need you to enter this authentication code, or we need you to do this action to keep your Google Voice number, and you get an authentication code. You have to send it, you know, text it to somebody, or give it to somebody over the phone, and then they take over your account. And so that’s, that’s just another form of account takeover. It’s, you know, it’s common for people who get, you know, phone numbers from third parties instead of the carrier.

[00:22:20] Bob: Got it. Got it, and what about car crash scams?

[00:22:24] Alex Quilici: So there, there’s a whole bunch of those. Actually oddly enough they, they happen much more in Australia than here. But the basic car crash scam is someone calls you and says, oh, we know you’ve been in a car crash, we’d like to help you. And so they, they say there’s a program, there’s special funding to, you know, help with your medical or whatever else. We just need all this personal information to be able to make that happen. And so, often then people give that information, they never hear from the, the scammer again. So that’s, that’s a typical one. There’s also a variance of it saying, hey, we’re going to, you’re going to be sued. You can get out of the suit right now if you pay this amount of money, you know, a whole bunch of other threats to get you to take action to, you know, provide information or money.

[00:23:05] Bob: These crimes are just so terrible, and yet they keep happening. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because the criminals have very little to lose.

[00:23:17] Bob: Do any of these people ever go to jail for this?

[00:23:19] Alex Quilici: Uh, jail, I have not seen. I am seeing fines happen, but, you know, one of the challenges is a lot of times the robocallers plead poverty. So it’s really interesting because the government just went after, or is going after 20 people who are a call warranty ring, right, that includes a carrier in Panama, a bunch of carriers, small carriers in the US, a bunch of individuals. They’re really going after them. The, the attorney generals are going after them. The FCC’s going after them, so there might be a possibility of jail time for some form of mail fraud here. But what’s really interesting about it is the guys behind it, were the same guys who got fined and pled poverty in 2013, and then fined again and pled poverty in 2015 or 2016. The same folks. And so that’s, when you say, you know they aren’t, are people going to jail? They’re not, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

[00:24:12] Bob: People aren’t going to jail for calling, you know, a, hundreds, for harassing hundreds of millions of people?

[00:24:18] Alex Quilici: So the, the, the main law against robocalling is something called the, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. And that says you can’t call people without their consent. Right, you can’t automatically dial calls to people without their consent. So that doesn’t have jail provisions. And, you know it’s kind of reasonable, right, because a lot of times it’s just an accident, but it does have provisions for big fines, like $1500 a call. And so the problem is, people can make a billion calls. What’s the fine, like a trillion and a half dollars? Nobody can pay that. And so they try to find some way to get to some amount to just make it painful for the, the robo caller. If they’re committing fraud, then it’s different. So if the act of the call involves money being transferred for fraudulent purposes, then they can go after them, but that’s challenging, right? That involves, you know, big investigations and following the money and we’ve seen some where they have gone after folks, and it’s, you know, over four or five countries and hundreds of people and that’s, you know, really big deal to go through the investigative process.

[00:25:20] Bob: But in the end, if somebody decides they’re going to be a robo caller, and they’re not afraid of going to jail, you know, why not try it?

[00:25:30] Alex Quilici: That’s, that’s right. I mean a lot of these robocallers are actually pretty good marketers, they’re just in the wrong profession, right, they’re applying their skills in the wrong way. But I think the way to look at it though is that I think it’s a more positive thing going forward than maybe in the past. And there’s, there’s several reasons for that. So the attorney generals in the US, all 50 of them, they’re now forming a task force and really going after people who do robocalls in their state, especially the, the really fraudulent ones. And so that’s good, because then you’ve got the power of the law working to find the source of these calls and really put pressure on them, and not only are they putting pressure on the individuals making the calls, but they’re putting pressure on the carriers that are allowing those calls to get on the phone network in the first place. So it used to be carriers could go be scot-free, you know, you’re some wholesale VOIP carrier, well I don’t know what traffic’s on my network, sorry. Somebody did that, oh, I’m sorry, I’ll try to shut them off. And you know, it was really sort of painful because the, the, there’s no way to go after the carriers, but the FCC is now going after these folks. And the attorney generals are actually suing them as being part of these robocall frauds, and that’s putting pressure on the carriers to work with folks like us who can help them identify very quickly the, what the bad robocalls that they’re being originated on their networks. And so you, you know, a lot of it, what we’ve been doing is stopping robocalls at the, at the phone, right, or at the network when it’s about to hit a consumer. That’s fine, it’s helpful, but you really want to stop them from being made in the first place and the first thing you need to do is recognize when they’re being made and have the carrier as a partner who’s, you know, shutting them off. And so I think you’re going to see a lot more enforcement driving carriers to do more to not let these calls get on the network in the first place.

[00:27:18] Bob: So we’re all glad to hear plenty of folks are engaged in trying to stop robocalls before they start. But that’s not going to happen overnight. So what can consumers do right now to protect themselves?

[00:27:33] Alex Quilici: We, we recommend three things. So number one is get a robocall blocking app on your, on your mobile phone. Get something that will help stop these calls and, and messages from getting through. None of them will get all of them, but they’ll get a lot of them. The second thing is, when an unknown number calls you, just let it go to voicemail, and then, you know, you can look at the voi–, or play the voicemail, read the voicemail and understand better what to do. And finally, don’t just call a number back. Don’t just react. Take your time, go find the name of the enterprise that called you, you know go find Citibank’s website, find Citibank’s phone number, call Citibank’s phone number. Don’t just call whatever number’s calling you claiming to be Citibank. It puts a lot of load on the consumer, but it’s just like everything else, you, you need educated consumers who have protective tools to help make it harder for the bad guys to find their victim. If everybody ran a robocall blocking app, if all the carriers use the tools that are available to help find these and not let the bad guys originate calls, we’d have much less of a problem.

[00:28:35] Bob: Much less of a problem. Oof, well, we all dream of that.

[00:28:41] Alex Quilici: And I just root for people to protect themselves as much as possible while the rest of the world catches up, like enforcement in technology and third parties, everybody going after these, these bad guys. I think it’s going to be like email. It’s just a little more painful to have your phone ring than to have your computer beep.

[00:28:57] Bob: (chuckles) And hang up the phone. Just hang up.

[00:28:59] Alex Quilici: Don’t, don’t get, you know, a lot of, a lot of folks, you know, grew up in an era where you could trust the caller ID and when the phone rang, you could trust it with somebody you knew or you had trust, right. It’s really hard to break that, but you cannot trust the phone network anymore. You cannot trust the phone calls coming in. And once you realize that, it becomes okay to just hang up on phone numbers. Don’t answer the phone numbers. You know, force people to leave voicemails and then call them back. That, that becomes the way to deal with the problem.

 

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About Bob Sullivan 1600 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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