Americans Are Getting Fewer Robocalls Because Of The Pandemic

May 5, 2020, 1:43 PM | Updated: 7:15 pm

(CNN) — One of the biggest consumer headaches has eased up at least in part due to the pandemic.

Americans experienced a drop in the amount of robocalls flooding their phones in April, helped by international call centers being shut down during the global pandemic and government efforts to stop COVID-19-related scams.

The number of robocalls made to U.S. phone numbers last month was the lowest in two years, according to new data provided to CNN Business from YouMail, a robocall-prevention service that tracks robocall traffic across the country. This includes both scam and legitimate calls, such as payment reminders from banks.

YouMail said Americans received about 2.86 billion calls in April, a 30% drop from the month before and down 40% from February. At their peak in October 2019, about 5.66 billion robocalls were placed to the U.S. in a one-month period.

The decline coincides with the shuttering of call centers in countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines, where workers who are placing unwanted robocalls don’t own laptops to support working from home and some have lost their jobs or been furloughed.

“Call centers are closed or running at much lower capacity due to social distancing around the world,” said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail. “There’s no point to robocall people if there’s no one there on the other end [to field it] when someone ‘presses 1’ or returns a call.”

According to the most recent data compiled by YouMail, Americans received about 58.5 billion robocalls in 2019.

Hiya, a service that provides profile information to some telecom companies to help consumers identify incoming calls and block unwanted ones, has also seen a decrease in fraud calls in recent months.

“Given the timing, it’s likely primarily due to the COVID-19 crisis as, much like every industry, phone scam operations have certainly been disrupted by lockdowns and stay-at-home orders over recent weeks,” said Hiya COO Kush Parikh. But he also attributed the dip to government actions.

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission sent letters to gateway service providers — the first carriers in the US that take in international traffic and put it on the country’s telephone network  demanding they stop coronavirus-related scam robocalls from targeting American consumers. Scammers have implemented new tactics related to the pandemic, such as ones that target victims’ stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, or offering fake COVID-19 tests.

In partnership with the government, the USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group has seen success in cutting off these types of scams by tracing calls to the source and keeping illegal calls off U.S. networks in the first place, according to the group.

“These providers could face civil and criminal penalties, including fraud,” said Patrick Halley, senior VP of policy and advocacy for USTelecom. “That level of enforcement makes people double check who they are doing business with and if they should put it on the network.”

The FCC’s effort to crack down on scam calls has been a years-long battle, but the telecom industry is working on a tool called Stir/Shaken to identify and trace unwanted robocall efforts. The initiatives are still underway, but Halley believes the push to curb COVID-19-related scams has played a key role in the latest dip.

“A few factors are at play, including the shutting down of call centers, but the FCC and FTC have been very publicly, actively and aggressively addressing any scams related to the coronavirus, and it’s really working,” he said.

While the overall number of robocalls is going down, the number of legitimate robocalls from government officials, hospitals and schools is on the rise with information for the public. Hiya is among the organizations working to register emergency numbers and label calls from testing centers to show up as “Covid-19 Test Results” on users’ phones. The company says the efforts “have seen drastic improvements in pick-up rates.”

But the decline in unwanted robocalls likely won’t last. “Phone scammers have shown resiliency over the years and constantly change their tactics to find new ways to exploit the public,” Parikh said. “They will likely bounce back from the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis.”

YouMail said it already saw an uptick toward the end of April, indicating Americans could receive more in May as global call centers come back online. But many have not yet reopened.

“Robocalls are going to come back steadily as more and more people get back online and social distancing slows down,” said Quilici. However, he doesn’t think they’ll return to the high levels experienced in October 2019, citing more mitigation efforts from the government.

“But my guess is that we return to the 4.5 – 5 billion level before the summer is out,” he added.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

A formerly sunken boat sits on rocks near the lowered waters of Hemenway Harbor on July 28, 2022 in...
SUMAN NAISHADHAM, Associated Press

How new Colorado River cuts will impact states, residents

People in Arizona and Nevada won’t face bans on watering their lawns or washing their cars despite more Colorado River water shortages.
6 hours ago
Award-winning author Salman Rushdie is awake and "articulate" following the stabbing attack in New ...
Aya Elamroussi and Mark Morales, CNN

Salman Rushdie awake, ‘articulate’ after stabbing attack in New York, official says

Award-winning author Salman Rushdie is awake and "articulate" in his conversations with investigators as he remains hospitalized for severe injuries following a stabbing attack in western New York Friday, a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation told CNN Monday.
1 day ago
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Ca...
Geneva Sands, CNN

Secret Service notified Capitol Police on January 6, of threat directed at Pelosi

The US Secret Service, on the evening of January 6, 2021, notified the US Capitol Police that it had discovered an online threat directed toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
1 day ago
Rapper A$AP Rocky appeared in a Los Angeles Superior courtroom on Aug. 17, 2022 and pleaded not gui...
Associated Press

A$AP Rocky pleads not guilty to firearm assault charges

Rapper A$AP Rocky has pleaded not guilty to felony assault with a firearm charges stemming from a 2021 confrontation in Hollywood.
1 day ago
Raspberry Rally goes on sale in early 2023. (Girl Scouts of the USA)...
Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business

Girl Scouts add a new raspberry cookie to the lineup

The Girl Scouts are adding a new, raspberry-flavored cookie to the lineup.
1 day ago
[File] Pride Flag...
Associated Press

Wisconsin school board votes in favor of pride flag ban

A Wisconsin school board has voted in favor of a policy that prohibits teachers and staff from displaying gay pride flags and other items that district officials consider political in nature.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Americans Are Getting Fewer Robocalls Because Of The Pandemic