Spam robocalls will soon account for almost 50% of all calls

This is what many people’s call histories look like these days. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
This is what many people’s call histories look like these days. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

No, it’s not your imagination: the amount of spam phone calls is getting worse.

According to new data from First Orion, a call protection company, the amount of junk calls will reach 46% by mid-year 2019. And by the end of that year, the amount is projected to finally cross the halfway point, meaning that half of all calls will be spam.

Collecting data from 50 billion calls over the past 18 months, the company was able to shed light on a phenomenon that many people have noticed and lamented: a severe uptick in calls, many of which use “neighborhood spoofing” techniques to entice people to pick up by having a fake caller ID that resembles the caller’s number.

The numbers weren’t nearly this high even a year ago. In 2017, mobile call scams made up just 3.7% of total call volume. By 2018, the number had shot up to 29.2% and projections for spam calls look on track to hit half of all call volume next year.

Consumers are complaining more than ever: The FTC received 63,000 complaints about illegal robocalls each month in 2009. That number ballooned to 375,000 complaints a month in 2017.

Scammers have also shifted almost completely to mobile. In 2017, 17% of scam and spam calls were to cellphones; now the number is at 69%, according to First Orion.

As these numbers rise, anecdotal spoofing is getting worse. People used to simply get calls from numbers similar to their own in order to trick them into thinking it’s someone from their family, for example, but anecdotally neighborhood spoofing has been evolving to target using area codes and numbers that are similar to other numbers they’re connected to, such as a place they used to live, or a family member’s town.

Blocking, according to First Orion, is not an effective solution anymore, as many phone numbers aren’t actually spam lines but rather legitimate numbers that got hijacked.

While the increase in the percentage of spam calls is due to a higher gross volume of spam calls, First Orion data says that the number of “clean” calls is dropping 10% to 20% of overall calls per year. By 2023, mobile voice revenue may collapse because people simply won’t be answering the phone as much. But today this is far from the case, as billions are lost every year as consumers fall victim to scams.

The FCC, FTC, and other government agencies are trying to hammer out solutions with companies in the private sector, but for consumers the progress has been painfully slow, especially as the numbers skyrocket.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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