In today’s hyper-politicized environment, we find ourselves united in one area at least: Contempt for robocalls.
State of play: Robocalls are a nuisance — often a very expensive one — that North Carolinians listed as their No. 1 consumer complaint of 2020. North Carolina happens to have one of the most aggressive attorneys general in the nation in combating robocalls: Josh Stein, who began his second term in January.
- His fight against spam callers dates back decades, to the days when telemarketers targeted home phone lines before cell phones.
- Over the years, Stein, a Democrat, has led a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general to sue illegal telemarketers and pressure telecom companies to take actions like flagging robocalls as spam and tracing calls to their source.
What’s happening: Every day, robocallers swamp Americans with calls using what’s known as voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology that lets them make calls using an Internet connection instead of an analog phone line. It’s an easy way to make literally millions of calls each day, Stein tells Axios Charlotte.
Usually these calls come from illegal marketers overseas, making them difficult to prosecute. And usually the call is automated in order to see if the “hook catches,” Stein says.
- “If the hook catches, then it will turn over into a human,” Stein says. “That’s why it’s so incredibly cheap to do this on the Internet.”
Data: NC DOJ; Chart: Will Chase/Axios
By the numbers: In 2020, North Carolinians filed 131,674 complaints regarding robocall and live caller violations of the Do Not Call Registry, federal data show. Most complaints last year were about imposters and calls regarding warrantee and protection plans.
Scammers are “as creative as they are greedy,” Stein says, and will call about everything from threatening arrest to telling people they’ve won the lottery. “You’re overcome with excitement or fear. You act less rationally, and it makes you more vulnerable to attack.”
- Seniors are disproportionately affected by robocall fraud.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that they have more resources, they’re more likely to be home, and they’re more likely to answer the phone,” Stein says.
Yes, but: Young people fall victim all the time, too, he adds. And most people who do don’t report it because they either don’t know how to, or they’re ashamed.
- Report scam and robocalls online at www.ncdoj.gov/norobo or by phone to 1-844-8-NO-ROBO (1-844-866-7626).
Stein’s office these days is going after phone providers who “turn a blind eye” to robocall traffic in their system, Stein says, because they make a small amount of money on every call, even if it’s illegal.
Plenty of people in North Carolina answer robocalls, which is why we’re No. 2 nationally in live answer rates, according to one survey.
“It’s because we’re nice!” Stein tells me. “What I’m asking people to do is be less nice. Just don’t answer the phone and if you do, just hang up.”