Americans were flooded with a record 5.7 billion robocalls last month — more than 17 per person in October — even as federal regulators try to crack down on the onslaught of prerecorded messages.
The all-time monthly high not only represents a 25% jump from the month prior, but puts the U.S. on track for a blockbuster year in robocalls, according to a report from robocall-blocking app YouMail. With 49 billion robocalls tracked thus far this year, Americans have already received more robocalls than all of last year.
"October's record robocall volume reminds us there's a long way to go before the robocall problem is solved," Alex Quilici, YouMail CEO, said in a statement. "It's hard to imagine, but we are still on pace to wind up with nearly 60 billion calls to U.S. consumers this year."
Some robocalls are benign, even if they are annoying. But the report found scams alone counted for 47% of all robocalls last month, or nearly 2.7 billion calls. The robocalls sought payments or sensitive personal information on purported late medical bills, expired warranties, suspicious Social Security activity, high interest rates, student loan bills and either scare-mongering scenarios.
The robocall problem persists even as consumers download third-party apps to curb the pesky calls and telecommunication regulators roll out new ways to block them. In May, the Federal Communications Commission — which lists robocalls as its No. 1 consumer complaint — authorized phone companies to block robocalls for consumers by default. Last year, lawmakers proposed legislation to fine scam callers up to $10,000 per call.
In response, robocallers are upping the ante to reach Americans who are wising up to their methods — part of what's driving the high volume in robocalls: "They have to work a little harder to get through to people now," Quilici said.
"The additional enforcement powers can only help, but that said, these scammers, these robocall folks, are smart people," Roger Cheng, executive editor at CNET, told "CBS This Morning" earlier this year. "They have been able to continually outwit and really advance and upgrade their game."
One way they've upgraded their game? Voicemails. After Apple released its own robocall blocking feature in September, Quilici said YouMail saw a spike in automated voicemails leaving callback numbers with threatening messages to circumvent the update — a trend Quilici expects to continue in the next three to five months.
Quilici said the scams are likely to continue so long as the business is lucrative for robocallers. Said Quilici: "We're making some progress, but it's not moving at a quick rate."