Election Robocalls

There is a crazy, creepy robocall that’s been going on for a few months, but scaling in volume right up until election day.

This robocall sort of seems like an emergency alert, which isn’t unusual in this time of Covid and constant alert calls. But when we say scaling, we mean scaling, with 10 million plus calls in October alone and now having attempted to bother people in 316 different area codes (as of 11/3).

This call has been going on since June and peaking before the election, with 10 million plus calls in October alone. That’s generating a lot of interest, with the Washington Post wondering if it’s potentially election-related interference, and the Wall St. Journal saying the FBI is looking into it.

There are some particularly weird things about this call.

  1. It doesn’t really have a call to action to press 1 or callback a phone number that’s going to make the caller any money. Scammers like to scam, and there’s no point if there’s no profit.
  2. It is at meaningful scale, easily in the top 20-25 robocall calling campaigns for August, which means there’s a cost to making these calls that has to be recovered. Robocalls are cheap, but they aren’t free, and a quick back of the envelope calculation suggests these calls cost nearly $100,000 so far.
  3. It is not an easy campaign to shut down. We at YouMail have been working with gateway providers, and it’s clear these calls aren’t just coming from a single carrier over a single gateway. They instead seem to have multiple paths into the US. This is not a twelve year old in her room in Brazil having a little fun with Mom’s laptop.

We all hope this is not some kind of election or post-election interference, and so far it doesn’t appear like that’s necessarily it’s purpose. But it’s definitely up to no good.

In fact, these calls highlights a true national security risk. Imagine this said that people needed to withdraw money from their bank accounts because their bank was going under – and causes a run on the banks. Or that there were big supply chain problems with food delivery and everyone needed to stock up right away? Or that a particular vaccine doesn’t work right when public health officials are trying to get people to take it?

The right robocall message done by the wrong people could cause significant havoc.

So what to do?

Consumers just need to protect themselves with robocall blocking apps like YouMail. These apps do the job of filtering these calls and messages for them.

But carriers and gateways need to monitor their networks for this sort of traffic and move quickly to shut it down. And do that sooner rather than later, not after over 4 months of calling US phone users, but in 4 days or even 4 hours. YouMail is working with carriers to do that now, but it’s just starting and needs to roll out more widely.

It’s a good thing that these robocallers didn’t mess around with our election (so far), but they have shown very well that they could have. And as an industry and a country we need to address that. Now.

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