50 Billion Robocalls Were Made in 2018

Learn about robocalls and how to prevent them.

    My mobile phone has been ringing quite a bit lately. I’ve received 18 phone calls over the past 3 days, all of which offered either expert legal advice or a free credit consultation.

    None of the phone calls are legitimate; they’re automated messages that make up nearly 50% of all phone calls and are known as robocalls. There’s an alarming trend taking place and based on the past couple of years activity recorded by YouMail, it doesn’t look like it is going to improve any time soon.

    Robocalls-Per-Year (Billions), 2016-2018

    While these calls are largely seen as nothing more than an annoyance, robocalls carry many risks. Robocalls are a common way to attempt to gain access to an individual’s personal information. Think of them as a form of phone-based phishing as there are many similarities between the two.

    Robocall-based scams often target your personal and/or financial information. The top 3 types of scam-based robocalls are often related to health insurance, student loans, and expired warranties. If you receive a phone call with an automated message and suspect it may be a scam, hang up.

    How’d they get my number?

    Understanding what robocalls are is great. Knowing how to avoid being added to call lists and reduce the likelihood of being on the receiving end of them is better. There are many ways for our phone numbers to be added to robocall lists, many of which we initiate on our own.

    Oversharing Information

    Each time you share a piece of information over the Internet, it ends up being stored somewhere.

    Phone numbers are a basic piece of information collected by retailers, social networks, and food delivery apps in order to let us know lunch is on the way. We even provide our phone numbers to improve security by using multi-actor authentication, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access – at the potential cost of privacy.

    This is all very convenient and in the case of MFA is strongly suggested, but the lack of transparency in how the information is stored and used is concerning, and the information is often aggregated and sold as lists for marketing and sales purposes.

    Modern technology

    We live in a time where systems that can collect and analyze billions of data points instantly is no longer an amazing feat.

    Don’t get me wrong – this power allows us to improve our daily lives is and well beyond what I expected when I began my career in tech, but has also become commonplace. Technology allows to accomplish many things as long as we have enough resources available, and the advent of Cloud computing has placed that power in to the hands of anyone who wants to use it – whether for beneficial purposes, or simply crawling the Web for contact information.

    The fine print

    Reading the fine print for a service can be a painful process, and it’s something we all skip. We shouldn’t.

    Unfortunately many services, apps, games, and other pieces of software we install on our computers and mobile phones – particularly ones that are free, are interested in harvesting our information. It’s how they monetize their product; nothing is truly free.

    Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t.

    Pete Seeger
    American Folk Singer

    Take a few minutes to read the terms of service associated with the next app you download; you may be surprised to see how the personal information you are asked to provide will be used. I chose a free app on my phone at random, reviewed its privacy policy, and found that my personal data:

    • May be shared with 3rd parties
    • May be combined or shared with related business units
    • May be shared with a parent company and/or international entities

    The privacy policy also stated that the personal information shared may include my username and password for the game.

    I’m all for recording demographic data related to the usage of an app or other piece of software, as that data is often used to understand how the software is used, and how it can be improved to make it more usable, widen its user base, and increase the revenue that is generated by it. I can even settle with basic information being shared, but the thought of my credentials being transmitted to unknown destinations just got it a one way ticket off of my phone.

    Credit bureaus

    Each time you apply for a credit card, like the ones found at department stores that lure you in with added savings, there’s a good chance that the information you provide will be sold. You’re handing your personal information over when applying – and where there’s an application, there’s fine print nearby.

    We are often the victims of our own minds in situations like this. We’ve become accustomed to seeing fine print and view it as an annoyance; nothing more but an easily avoidable barrier between us and what we want. It’s a form of selective attention that can lead to many headaches from spam emails to unsolicited phone calls and other forms of data leakage.

    Limiting unsolicited calls

    There’s a very good chance that your phone number is already on multiple robocall lists, and there are measures that can be taken to reduce further additions along with apps that can help prevent robocalls from reaching you.

    Read the fine print

    Always read the fine print before providing your personal information.

    While this can be a pain to do, having an understanding of how your personal information will be stored and used will allow you to choose whether or not the latest app or game is worth it. Be sure to look for immediate red flags, i.e. an app that doesn’t need access to your phone’s contact list but notes that it requires access to quickly reduce the risk of your information being shared.

    National do not call registry

    Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry.

    While some telemarketers don’t take the registry into account, many do and adding your number can help reduce the number of phone calls you’ll receive. Keep in mind, though, that a business that you’ve provided your number to will still be able to call you for up to 180 days, even if you’re listed in the registry.

    Do not answer unknown callers

    Receive a phone call from a number you don’t recognize? Let it go to voicemail. If someone is legitimately trying to get in touch, they’ll leave you a message.

    Number blocking apps

    There are many apps available for mobile phones that offer protection, including YouMail and Nomorobo, which can identify and block known robocalls. I’ll be trying both apps on my mobile phone, so be sure to come back soon back for the review.

    Want to learn more ways to keep your privacy in check and reduce the number of ways you’ll end up on a robocall list? Learn more about managing your privacy by visiting Stay Safe Online for helpful tips for both individuals and businesses.

     

     

     

    Matt has spent the better part of 2 decades building systems, managing IT departments, and developing websites and applications for the education, publishing, and technical service industries. As an MCSE...

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