Every month YouMail publishes the YouMail Robocall Index, which is an estimate of the total number of robocalls that happen in the US each month. We’ve seen as many as 5.7 billion roboocalls in October, 2019, and and as few as 2.9 billion robocalls in April, 2020.
This overall estimate, however, does not distinguish between legal robocalls and illegal robocalls. For example, the robocalls that alert us about prescriptions being ready, or that let us know that a credit card charge is suspected to be fraud, or even that our children’s school will have a snow day, are all perfectly legal. Those legal alerts and various types of reminders are generally not the problem. At worst, these legal alerts might be annoying to some, but could be important and even life-saving to others.
The real robocall problem is illegal robocalls – which by definition violate a regulation or a law.
Some of these violations are related to laws specific to telephone calls,, like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), the Truth in Caller ID act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and a host of state statutes and regulations.
Others are related to behavior that’s illegal, whether it’s on a phone call or not. For example, we also mark calls as spam when they are clear violations of federal fraud laws, such as impostor calls, where someone pretends to be the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service, or even is pretending to be a major US bank or brand, like Amazon or Norton. As you can imagine, these tend to be the most profitable and therefore the most dangerous to consumers.
At YouMail, when we can detect the high likelihood of a violation of one of these acts or that the caller is violating other federal laws, we consider it to be an illegal call. We further mark that robocall campaign as a scam (our practical shorthand for “illegal call”). For example we know to mark a call as spam if we see a spoofed caller ID. Or if we see a marketing call fail to identify the caller or provide a mechanism for opting out of future calls. Or if we see calls outside the times calls are allowed (generally 8am to 9pm). Or if we have a meaningful set of our users say that they did not give consent to be called on their cell phone. Or if someone is using a number that is never supposed to be used to make outbound calls.
The list of rules broken and bad behaviors goes on and on.
Given this, we can total up all the calls from these scam robocall campaigns and get an estimate of the number of illegal robocalls that are out there. It sounds tricky, but over the years we’ve perfected the art of measuring robocall volumes.
So, how many illegal calls are happening every month?
It turns out it’s varied a lot over time, just like the volume of robocalls has varied.
The peak of these scam calls is about 2.65 billion back in October, 2019. That’s a big number!
However, more recently, there’s some good news. In the past 3 months, we’ve seen “only” roughly 2 billion of these illegal calls in June, 1.8 billion in July, and 1.5 billion in August. That’s a decrease in these illegal calls by 25% or so in the past two months. And that seems like it’s almost entirely due to STIRS/SHAKEN, which has made it harder for bad guys to spoof phone numbers and get their calls to hit an end consumer’s telephone.
Yes, we agree that that’s still 1.5 billion robocalls too many, but the good news is that it shows that there has been some progress in the fight, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it yet. And that huge number means consumers still need apps like YouMail to protect themselves from these illegal calls – and likely will for some time to come.