- You're not imagining things: There were way fewer spam calls being made in the past few weeks, during the coronavirus lockdown.
- But there are many reasons for the drop in spam calls, some directly related to COVID-19 and some having to do with a government crackdown and new technologies.
- Among the 50 states and District of Columbia, the drops in spam calls ranged from a high of 76% to a low of 37%.
Why Did Spammers Dial Back?
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact, but at least there was a few weeks of respite from spam phone calls.
Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about nuisance calls were down by more than half while economies around the globe shut down, according to a report from AllAreaCodes.
It began the week March 8, when the World Health Organization called COVID-19 a global pandemic and the U.S. declared a national emergency. Spam complaints to the FTC for Do-Not-Call Registry violations dropped 15% compared with the previous week, followed by a drop of 24% the next week. The downward spiral continued through April 12, to about 55%, with some areas seeing drops of up to 76% and no state seeing a drop of less than 37%.
Read on to see where your state ranks in spam relief.
Like with the shutdown of other industries globally, workers who spend their days on spam were likely sent home because of the coronavirus, experts say.“Robocalls coming from call centers in locations like India and the Philippines have seen a complete drop-off due to the quarantine rules in place there,” says Ray Walsh, digital privacy expert for ProPrivacy. “In India, for example, the COVID-19 quarantine has been ongoing for a month.”
Telephone solicitation companies are hardly essential services, says Don Petersen, a Florida attorney who represents consumers suing companies that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. “Apparently, the boiler rooms are either not equipped to have their telemarketers work from home or don't trust them to do so,” he says.
Also, why bother? Their victims are likely to have less money to spend, “given the massive furloughs taking place,” Petersen says.
Should We Thank the FTC?
But the lull in spam could also be credited to an FTC crackdown, Petersen says.
The government agency had just sent letters to 19 businesses warning them that facilitating illegal telemarketing or robocalling is, well, against the law, notes a January press release from the FTC. The names of the companies weren’t disclosed.
The letters said the businesses would be subject to legal action if they were found helping a seller or telemarketer “they know, or consciously avoid knowing” violates the FTC Telemarketing Sales Rule. “We will take action,” the agency says.
What Role Did New Technology Play?
Perhaps more significant than coronavirus in cutting down on spam is new technology available to track calls and spot companies “complicit in the spam robocalls” in as little as an hour, says Massachusetts attorney Steven Weisman, who teaches courses on white collar crime at Bentley University and blogs about scams, identity theft, and cybersecurity at Scamicide.“Newer technology recently allowed federal officials to identify large numbers of robocalls coming into this country from a Philippines company VoIPMax, which in turn resulted in the federal officials threatening the company with legal action if it did not terminate the service to scammers,” Weisman says.
None of this stops spam entirely. Scammers don't have much problem finding new companies to carry their robocalls, Weisman says.
Though spam calls are down, they’re ramping up again — and it’s probably the outright fraudsters that are getting back to work first, says Walsh, of ProPrivacy.
“What’s important to remember is that the sharp decline in robocalls coming from ‘legitimate’ call centers means that if you do receive a robocall the chances of it being a scam actually increase,” Walsh says.
Where Your State Ranks
Here's how much of a drop in spam your state saw from March 1 to April 12, ranked from the biggest to smallest decrease by AllAreaCodes.com.
|1||District of Columbia||76%|