It's much easier than you think to start a robocalling scam campaign (I could make robocalls to millions of people for cheap right now if I wanted to)

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  • It’s much easier than you think for anyone to embark on a scamming robocall campaign.
  • All it takes is a simple online search to find a service that will let you call millions of people, and there isn’t much regulation on what kinds of services you can find online.
  • Some of those services are perfectly legitimate, and can be used for legal and legitimate robocalls.
  • Others turn a blind eye to scammers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the longest time, I pictured robocall scammers in a dark, damp room using some kind of seedy custom software that was probably bought from the dark web to make the billions of robo-scam-calls that Americans receive each year.

Indeed, according to robocall blocking service YouMail, Americans received 4.35 billion robocalls in June alone. And that’s almost a billion less than the number of robocalls in April, when Americans received 5.23 billion robocalls.

For some spammers, my imagined spammer HQ may be perfectly accurate.

But if you wanted to moonlight as a robocall spammer without delving in the depths of the dark web, you could just do a quick search online.

Indeed, just search for “robocalling services” on a search engine like Google or Bing, click on one of the results, setup an account, pay, and off you go. Right now, right from where you’re sitting. Then, if I get a hit from an unsuspecting victim from the millions of calls I made, I can get on the phone and work my magic to extract sensitive information, or convince them to hand over money.

When I asked Jim Tyrrell, senior marketing leader at networking services firm Transaction Network Services, if it really was that easy, he replied “You’re absolutely right,” adding that “unfortunately, it doesn’t cost a lot to set up an operation like that,” and that it can be an extremely lucrative endeavour.

Interestingly, the first few results on search engines are promoted results for robocalling services. With that said, those promoted results for robocalling services are more likely to be reputable robocalling services.

Robocalling service googleBusiness Insider

That’s right. Reputable robocalling services.


Some robocalls are perfectly legal

Lynne Sladky/APA monitor showing departing flights shows Spirit Airlines’ flights canceled due to a strike by pilots at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Saturday, June 12, 2010.

As much as robocalls as a practise may be reviled by phone customers, there are actually some robocalls that you might welcome and find useful. And those helpful robocalls are typically the legal kind.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), robocalls are legal as long as they comply within certain parameters, like delivering information about a cancelled flight, a doctor’s appointment or prescription refill reminder, or if a school has a change in hours. Political robocalls informing you about candidates running for office, or robocalls for charities are also allowed.

To be sure, there are legal and legitimate robocalls regarding debt collection that aren’t exactly welcome, but that’s the equivalent of getting a notice in the mail.

But robocalls aren’t allowed to be used to sell you something, unless the company making the robocalls has your written permission to accept robocalls.

And, obviously, robocalls designed to scam you out of your money or sensitive information are illegal.

Tyrrell told Business Insider that you’re unlikely to get spam or illegal robocalls from “tier 1” services, which are compliant with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) laws and have terms and conditions in their contracts, as well as fraud teams to pick up on bad actors.


The trouble is, not every service you find online is “tier 1”

Associated Press

Some less legitimate services, or those that aren’t so diligent in their compliance, “may turn a blind eye” to a robocalling scam campaign, Tyrrell said, at least until they get grief from the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) or FTC.

Tyrrell told Business Insider that it’s unlikely that search engines like Google Search can regulate which robocalling services turn up in their search results. So, if you want to find a service that will let you embark on a scamming campaign, you can find one.


If it’s so easy for scammers to start robocalling, what’s being done about it?

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

So far, there’s no way to stop bad robocalls. So telecom companies and government entities are finding ways to at least control them.

For one, carriers have recently made their robocalling detection services free of charge. Those services can actively show you if a call is potentially a scam, like the notification I got above when I received a possible scam call while writing this article. And it’s companies like TNS and Metaswitch that power these scam robocall detection services.

And in May 2019, the Senate approved the “TRACED Act,” which imposes stiffer penalties on bad robocallers, and is pushing carriers to implement technology dubbed “STIR/SHAKEN” by May 2020. This technology is designed to ensure that a call you’re receiving is actually coming from the phone number you see on your phone’s called ID. Thus, you’ll trust your called ID again.

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