Why are there so many #&^!! calls?

Why are there so many spam calls?

George Lightbody and Andy Dale here, two of the founders of imp.   One of the great mysteries in life is why there are so many unwanted calls.

The decision makers - politicians, landline carriers, and regulators - are very conflicted.

Politicians want to be able to call all the time.    

From the FCC’s site: “The Do Not Call Registry does not apply to political calls or calls from non-profits and charities ” Politicians and charities want to be able to call anyone at any time. And they can.

Carriers do not really want to limit the calls.

First, carriers get paid a little bit for every call they connect.  “Interconnect Fees.”  The carriers are sort of like the post office, in that junk communication, be it mail or phone calls, actually helps finance the system.  Think about that, when you wonder why your carrier has not “solved” the problem.  Second, carriers are very hesitant, understandably, to get into the business of limiting who you might call, or who might call you.  

Regulation is limited.

Regulations (Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), state versions of the TCPA, Telemarketing Sales Rule, Federal Communication Commission Rule, and SHAKEN/STIR) govern what can happen on landlines.  But landlines do not have the same regulatory protection as cell phones.  And unwanted call volume is still increasing at 10% month over month.

Technology makes it super easy for unwanted callers.

The internet is connected to the phone system.

For 90% of Americans, landline phone service is delivered by Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.   So the internet IS the phone system.  As such, scammers can use all the computational power of a computer to dial and manage scam calls.  From anywhere in the world.  Every time a bad actor is traced down, they just sprout up again nearby.

Caller ID is easy to fake.

Caller ID information is provided by the caller, not the carrier.   Callers can pretend to be anyone that they want to be, as far as Caller ID is concerned.   You can “spoof” a number for yourself at SpoofTel or SpoofMyCalls.

Call Blocking doesn’t work.

As many of our customers have noted, there are at least (999) 999-9999 possible US phone numbers.  Plus international numbers.  The best call blockers out there have been shown to stop only 5% of unwanted phone calls.   But everyone keeps thinking this is a valid solution.

Robocalls and Scam calls make a LOT of money for bad guys.

Economics of Robocalling.

This is the big one.  Robocalling is super cheap, and the rewards are high.  It costs robocallers about $3,000 to make three million calls.  Scam victims lose $3,000, on average.   So the scammers only need to hook 1 caller out of 3,000,000 to break even.    And they make a profit at 2 callers in 3,000,000.   2 out of a 3,000,000?   That is not very many people.

Scammers are smart.  

Even a casual scammer can make it look like “Amazon '' or “Google” is calling. Or they can pretend to be your neighbor, using a number that is very close to yours. More sophisticated scammers will find out the names of family members, and pretend to be trying to help “your grandson Theo, who is hurt in an accident”.  Or call “about your recent car accident, press 1 to start processing your claim.” Or know the name of your bank, and “be calling to verify a transfer”. You may have received a robo call in the Chinese language. If you are not a Chinese speaker, it’s an annoyance. If you are a Chinese speaker then the call seems legitimate, otherwise how would they know that you are a Chinese speaker? 

The bad caller does not have to have a perfect story. Only good enough to get 2 out of 3,000,000 to listen.

Scammers are specialized

One type of scammer specializes in making, or “originating”, the calls.    Once someone answers, the “originating” scammer can pass the call along to a different scammer, or even a different scamming company, that specializes in “extracting” your money.   These “extractive” scammers are experts at driving your feelings of urgency.  Once they have you on the phone, they have very sophisticated techniques and strategies that can keep victims on the phone, engaged, and isolated.   Scamming is a profession, and pays pretty good wages, as you can see on Glassdoor.

Landline owners are a very attractive market opportunity.

Landline owners are well off.

Landline owners tend to be over 45, homeowners, living in the suburbs, with a good income.   If you want to sell something, or scam someone, why not target a slightly wealthier population?

Landline owners were brought up to respond to the ringing bell.

We were all trained to respond to the phone ringing, because it used to be something important.  We became like Pavlov’s dogs, responding to the sound of the ringing bell.   And old habits are hard to shake.   So, even though we know that 80% of all calls are unwanted, we still answer. 

Put all this together, and you get a lot of unwanted phone calls.   And while we all might like it if others solved the problem for us, sometimes we need to take action ourselves.   After all, it is my phone.   (imp for short.)

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