In the News

The Robocalls Problem Is So Bad That the FCC Actually Did Something

Aug 5, 2022 Scientific American

A cybersecurity expert explains how we might learn to trust our phones again

“Hello, we’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty.” After years of seemingly unstoppable scam robocalls, this phrase is embedded into the minds of many of us. Last month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it was ordering phone providers to block any calls coming from a known car warranty robocall scam, offering hope that U.S. phone users may hear that all-too-familiar automated voice a little less often.

But there is more work required to crack down on these calls. After all, car warranty warnings are only one type of scam. To understand how robocallers reach us, and why it’s so hard to stop them, Scientific American spoke with Adam Doupé, a cybersecurity expert at Arizona State University.

How big is the robocall problem in the U.S.?

I think it’s difficult to wrap our head around the scale. We can look at hard evidence of the complaints that consumers are sending to the FCC, but those are just people who actually complain. The FCC is claiming that one auto warranty scam operation is responsible for making more than eight billion robocall messages since 2018—that’s just staggering. That’s two billion a year from one campaign. Companies are sending out billions of messages, and that’s inherently going to affect you; you’ll get one to three a day.

A lot of these are done by companies that are selling real products. They’re just using an illegal marketing campaign to get consumers to buy those products. That’s distinct from robocalls that are trying to target people for fraud: the robocall itself is the marketing lure to get somebody on the hook, then they’re transferred to a real person who is defrauding them out of money…