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Robocalls and Spam Calls Prevention: Robocalls on the Rise

In an era of advanced technology and automation, illegal robocalls and spam calls not only remain an issue but are also on the rise. These unwanted nuisances not only disrupt company workflow and productivity but also pose a significant threat to personal information and financial security. In recent years, the volume and sophistication of unsolicited calls has skyrocketed due to the ease through which scammers can now reach potential victims via digital channels.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the rise of robocalls and spam calls, exploring the causes and measures that you can take to protect your customers from these fraud schemes.

What are Robocalls and Spam Calls?

What are Robocalls? 

Robocalls are automated calls that deliver pre-recorded messages. Depending on the country legislation, robocalls are either illegal or legal. Legal robocalls can be initiated by legitimate organizations, such as banks or healthcare providers, for sending alerts or reminders. In contrast, illegal robocalls are always unsolicited, meaning that recipients have not given prior consent to receive such calls. Illegal robocalls typically aim to lure people into disclosing personal information, making purchases, or soliciting donations. 

Example: In the US, the TCPA and the Telemarketing Sales Rule prohibit companies from using automated dialers to call or text a phone without the end user’s permission.

Real-life cases of illegal robocalls:

  • IRS imposter calls
  • Calls impersonating large companies like Apple
  • False COVID-hardship programs
  • Fake Amazon refunds, etc.

What are Spam Calls?

Spam calls, on the other hand, involve unsolicited and invasive calls which attempt to sell a product or service. Spam calls are also illegal if they violate telemarketing laws, such as calling numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry or calling before 8 am or after 9 pm. Additionally, spam calls can be used for malicious purposes like phishing or pretexting.

How Spam Calls and Robocalls Work

To make spam calls and robocalls and ensure they reach their targets, fraudsters use various tactics. 

  1. Auto-dialers. They can dial multiple numbers simultaneously and play pre-recorded messages. They can be programmed to call specific numbers or generate them randomly. Auto-dialers can also be instructed to skip specific numbers, the National Do Not Call Registry for example, to avoid legislative restrictions.
  2. Spoofing. This technique involves manipulating the caller ID to appear as familiar or local. This is done via a computer program that alters the caller ID. Spoofing makes it difficult for recipients to identify legitimate calls from illegitimate ones, increasing the chance of being answered.
  3. Combination. Spam calls and robocalls can involve a combination of automation and human telemarketers. In this scenario, an auto-dialer initiates the call and plays a pre-recorded message. If the recipient expresses interest or engages with the message, the call is transferred to a real person who then attempts to defraud them, for example, by inviting them to donate to save animals or help in crises. 
  4. One-ring robocall scam. The robocaller dials a number and disconnects after a ring or two, hoping that the victim will call back to what is actually an international number. This results in a toll that benefits the scammer significantly. This scam may also involve repeated calls to identify a target, followed by a live telemarketer or scammer immediately calling back.

Robocalls on the Rise

Understanding why robocalls and spam calls are increasing is crucial in addressing this issue effectively. Here is a brief explanation.

As shopping and daily communication shift to mobile apps, businesses are following the trend by engaging with their customers through these channels, where their customers are already present. Phone calls, SMS, and email marketing have become key parts of a business's marketing strategy. They serve as essential means for supporting customers along the entire customer journey, offering promotional messages, information, assistance, and verification.

Recognizing its effectiveness, fraudsters have expanded the diversity and volume of telemarketing calls, resulting in significant profits for themselves and escalating losses for telcos year after year.

Many robocalls are scams. Here are some examples of scam calls recognized by the US Federal Trade Commission:

  • Auto Warranty Scam: Scammers pretend to extend a recipient’s auto warranty, but it's a scam to get the victim to pay;
  • Amazon Suspicious Charge Scam: Scammers impersonate Amazon employees, falsely claiming that there are suspicious charges to the victim’s account, but it's a scam;
  • Social Security Administration Scam: Scammers pose as Social Security Administration employees, falsely claiming law enforcement action against potential victims;
  • Apple Tech Support Scam: Scammers pretending to be from Apple tech support, attempting to trick call recipients into believing there's a technical issue;
  • Utility Company Impersonator Scam: Scammers pretend to be a utility company, offering a rebate, but it's a scam;
  • Student Loan Debt Relief Scam: Scammers attempt to obtain personal information from student loan borrowers.

Given the ease through which fraudsters can make local and international spam calls and robocalls, there has been a substantial surge in these call types. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a single robocalling campaign is responsible for generating over two billion unwarranted calls annually. In practice, this means that an average American can expect to receive one to three unsolicited calls per day. In 2022, the FTC received more than 1.8 million complaints about robocalls. These statistics demonstrate the magnitude of the problem and emphasize the need for individuals and organizations to implement protective measures against these unwanted interruptions.

Impact of Robocalls and Spam Calls: Statistics

The impact of illegal robocalls and spam calls goes beyond annoyance and disruption. They have significant financial, reputational, and operational consequences for individuals, businesses, and telecom companies. Here are some key robocall statistics that highlight the scale of the problem:

Financial losses: In 2021 alone, robocall fraud cost telecom companies a staggering $1.62 billion, according to the Communication Fraud Control Association (CFCA). Notably, the problem is so prevalent that it ranks as the top consumer complaint at the FCC in the United States. Please note that the actual numbers likely surpass reported figures, based on the volume of customer complaints.

Revenue losses: Spam calls and robocalls continue to cause revenue losses. Scam calls increased by 118% from 2020-2021, as reported by First Orion.

Legitimate calls going unanswered: With nuisance calls on the rise, many people are now skeptical of answering calls from unknown numbers. In 2020, the PEW Research Center found that eight out of ten Americans generally avoid answering phone calls from unknown numbers. Moreover, the FCC advises people to ignore calls from unknown numbers. As a result, legitimate calls from businesses to customers are often being ignored, causing disruptions in customer relations, churn, and revenue loss.

Operational costs: Operators waste immense resources routing and processing billions of illegitimate calls monthly.

Consumer frustration: Many consumers feel that the spam call problem is getting worse. Consumers are also becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of effective solutions.

The impact of robocalls and spam calls is significant and far-reaching. The problem is so prevalent that regulators in different countries are beginning to take notice and address the issue.

Regulatory Approach to the Problem in Different Countries

Regulators around the world have implemented various measures to address the impact of robocalls. Here's a look at the specific regulatory approaches taken by different countries.

Robocalls and Spam Calls in the United States

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took steps to tackle the rising issue of robocalls. They implemented the STIR/SHAKEN protocol, a robocall mitigation program that requires voice service providers to prevent illegal robocalls from originating on their network. Additionally, the FCC has created a Robocall Mitigation Database for international providers to make tracebacks more effective. In March 2021, the FCC announced the formation of a "Robocall Response Team" consisting of 51 FCC employees who would coordinate further robocall mitigation efforts.

Robocalls and Spam Calls in Europe

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications (CEPT) has examined the current regulatory practices across different jurisdictions and explored various technical methods to combat fraud. In their most recent report, CEPT proposed a multi-staged strategy for implementing selected solutions for robocall detection and prevention. This includes the AB Handshake solution designed to combat various illegal call types, including robocalls and spam calls. In Ireland, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has established a task force to address the rising number of scam calls and texts targeting end-users.

Robocalls and Spam Calls in Australia

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has established the Reducing Scam Calls Code in collaboration with members of the Australian telco industry to prevent robocalls.

Additional Measures

In an effort to deter robocallers and spammers, regulators have also imposed substantial fines. In 2021, the FCC convicted two Texas-based telemarketers for illegally spoofed robocalls, resulting in a record-breaking $225 million fine. 

While such efforts have reduced domestic-originating calls, fraudsters have shifted their focus to targeting subscribers in foreign countries, presenting new challenges for regulators.

Threats from Abroad

Fraud Strategies

Fraudsters employ techniques like CLI Spoofing to disguise their true caller ID and appear as local numbers, increasing the likelihood of their calls being answered. The profitability of their operations relies on scamming only a small number of victims. To avoid detection, fraudsters now target end-users in foreign countries, leveraging international transit routes with low-rate destinations as their preferred targets.

Low-Rate Destinations

Countries with low termination rates suffer the most from the above fraud schemes, as spammers avoid investing in campaigns targeting high-termination-rate countries. 

For example, the US termination rate is around $0.002/min, resulting in a majority of robocalls originating from abroad at minimal cost. Europe faces a similar situation with a significant number of spam calls originating from different EU countries. 

Regulators, such as the FCC, aim to force gateway providers to block robocalls, but mitigating spam calls from abroad remains a significant challenge due to the lack of effective measures for stopping them.

How to Stop Illegal Robocalls and Spam Calls: Which Traditional and New Approaches Work?

Traditional regulatory approaches to combat robocalls and spam calls have proven inadequate due to their focus on protecting operators within limited jurisdictions. Operators often work in isolation, without information sharing or consideration of the broader call chain. These disadvantages allow fraudsters to exploit vulnerabilities in complex telecom chains. Calls may originate in one country, transit via multiple networks provided by different telecom operators worldwide, and terminate in another country. This setup provides fraudsters with opportunities to enter the chains at any point, collaborate with fraudulent carriers, spoof caller line identification (CLI) to mimic local numbers and target residents of foreign countries.

Current methods of spam calls and robocalls prevention, including implementation of STIR/SHAKEN protocol and its modifications, have made some progress in detecting robocalls with spoofed CLI within one specific market — the USA. However, the problem persists when calls originate from overseas VoIP providers.

Additionally, the use of threshold-based rules in detecting robocalls and spam calls often fails to detect all instances of robocalling and can result in excessive blocking of legitimate traffic, leading to revenue loss.

"Do Not Originate" (DNO) lists and unallocated number databases are also used but cover only a small percentage (25% or less) of unsolicited calls. Abnormal pattern recognition is another approach, but traditional systems struggle with complex pattern recognition, causing inaccurate detection and extensive blocking rules that deny legitimate services and erode revenue.

Another approach to robocall detection is abnormal pattern recognition; analyzing parameters such as call duration, frequency, number range, and answer rate. However, traditional systems struggle with complex pattern recognition, often failing to accurately detect fraud. This often leads users of traditional fraud management systems to implement extensive blockage rules, resulting in revenue erosion caused by blocking number ranges that are no longer associated with robocalling or spam. Consequently, this approach also denies legitimate service and causes revenue loss.

Given these shortcomings, it’s clear there is a need for advanced robocall detection methods that can effectively combat robocalling while minimizing their impact on legitimate traffic and revenue.

AI Shield, capable of stopping 99.995% of spam and robocalls, presents a promising solution in the ongoing battle against fraudulent telecommunications practices.

AB Handshake: Robocall and Spam Detection and Prevention Solution for Telecom Companies

AB Handshake recognizes the importance of protecting end users and service providers from robocalls and spam calls. For this reason, our company has developed an advanced, fully automated solution to detect and block illegal calls before they reach end users. 

The AB Handshake solution is based on AI Shield, an artificial intelligence module that leverages machine learning to detect spam calls and robocalls. With over 200 parameters for traffic analysis, it detects even the smallest discrepancies in call patterns, and blocks fraudulent calls in real time. With AI Shield, nuisance calls are detected and blocked with 99.995% accuracy, ensuring the highest standard of protection for service providers and end users. 

This tool is fully automated and pre-trained on large amounts of wholesale and retail traffic, ensuring superior performance from day one. 

AB Handshake’s Call Validation solution is another effective tool for detecting and blocking all instances of robocalling and spam calls with spoofed CLIs, best suited for network operators. Call Validation works in real time, stopping all fraudulent calls before they reach the end user. Visit this page to learn more.

Coincidentally, at ITU CxO meeting 2023, industry leaders put forward several overarching fraud-realated observations, desires, and concerns. Unamiously, the group were in-favor of a real-time call validation system capable of offering a global solution. A related concern put forward by the group was the ineffectiveness of both isolated methods and threshold-based rules. 

View the complete summary of the ITU CxO meeting 2023.

For more information on AI Shield, visit this page. To book a meeting with our team, get in touch.

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