Runaway wireless robocall crisis rapidly growing out of control

Today, one-third of all calls made to cellphones are robocalls. We battled this crisis once before and temporarily won. What’s the solution this time?

AI head with headset on robocalls

Robocalls have been spreading from wire line to wireless and are increasingly making life miserable for hundreds of millions of mobile users across the USA…and billions more across the world. Now it’s spreading to smaller carriers as well. Where did this runaway robocall problem come from and what can we do about it?

Wireless has been an incredible, innovative and shiny growth engine for decades. However, every silver lining has a cloud. The increasingly dark, dirty underbelly of this amazing growth story are the massive number of runaway robocalls we all deal with.

This growing robocall threat is rapidly spreading to more carriers and more customers. Plus, it’s expanding to smaller carriers and their customers as well. I also expect this disease to spread to text messages soon enough.

One third of all wireless calls are robocalls

In the 1990s, this problem used to be limited to land lines. At that point, new rules and regulations stopped this problem dead in its tracks and life was peaceful and quiet for a while.

Then the problem started to grow once again as calls over the internet using voice over IP (VoIP) started to grow. Now wireless – which was spared in the early years – is all rolled up in this sticky, gooey mess.

Robocalls have had the green light to crank up and start their miserable growth curve all over again. Today, at least one third of all wireless calls are pesky robocalls. And that number is only growing.

Part of the problem is that the solution in the ‘90s was based on the traditional telephone network. Increasingly, we make and receive calls in other ways, like wireless and VoIP.

Robocalls calls come from both inside and outside the USA

VoIP calls come from both inside the USA and from other countries as well. The phone number that shows up on our screens is a local number, because that’s what’s selected by the calling party, even if they are (literally) in Timbuktu. Yes, it’s a scam.

This is the same technology that regular companies use to give the impression they are local to build trust with their customers. However, companies that use robocalls are not what anyone would consider a “good” company to do business with.

The vast majority of these calls today are from the underworld. Bad guys just trying to separate you from your money. These are the bad robocalls we need protection from.

And unlike the ‘90s, this time around the US government has been having a hard time coming up with a solution to solve this growing problem.

Wireless, telephone and VoIP companies are trying their best to solve this problem themselves. They share information on what works to help us eliminate the growing threat.

FCC plan called STIR/SHAKEN battles robocalls

The FCC is working on something called STIR/SHAKEN. The point of this program is to find and stop bad robocallers. Carriers are looking at this as part of their own strategies, too.

Tier 1 players are active participants in this battle, but Tier 2 and Tier 3 players are smaller companies without the resources for this kind of battle. That’s why robocallers are now expanding their focus to this group of smaller wireless and wire line carriers and their customers.

It’s not like customers of larger carriers will see any relief, it’s just that the focus is now expanding to smaller players as well. Customers of smaller players are considered by robocallers to be like homes without security systems: an easier target.

Today, we use wireless and VoIP to make most of our calls. And today, these are the target of the bad guys who use robocall technology to break into our lives. They have focused on customers of larger carriers, but the threat is spreading to defenseless mid-size and smaller carriers as well.

I encourage every provider to continue to work together with the FCC to fight this ongoing and never-ending battle. The robocall threat is real and only getting worse, year after year.

Block robocaller numbers on iPhone and Android

Here’s a limited solution: every time you get a robocall, remember to block this number from ever calling you again.

Using an iPhone, go to your Phone and click on Recents. Then click the “i” on the right of the number. After the screen opens a page with the caller information, click “Block This Caller” at the bottom. That’s it. You’re done.

Using an Android, go to your Phone and click on Recent. Then click on the three dots on the right to open their caller information. Then click, “Add to Reject List.” That’s it.

Yes, you have to keep adding these robocall numbers and it’s an ongoing process. The good news is that number is now blocked. The bad news is many robocalls simply generate a new number with each call to show up on your screen. That means this method simply won’t eliminate the problem no matter how long you work it. But at least it’s a partial solution.

Solutions to solve the growing robocall crisis

Carriers are developing ways to detect potential robocalls and send them to voice mail and not ring your mobile phone. If that works, it will be a big step to helping all of us who are inundated with a daily avalanche of these pesky calls. We still need to listen to the messages to determine whether the call was a robocall or not, but at least we can choose when to do that.

At the rate the problem is growing, eventually almost every call we get on our cellphones will be a robocall. It’s like the problem with junk and/or scam emails we all get, day in and day out. So many of us receive hundreds of commercial emails every day, but only a few are messages from people we want to hear from.

In the long run, we have to hope the FCC and national carriers can develop protections for us that work. Don’t expect the robocall problem to be solved quickly, but at least many high-level companies and government agencies have it on the radar and are working on it. That’s something, at least.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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