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How do robocalls work?

We set out find out who are the robocallers, who are the victims and what can be done to stop the calls.

ATLANTA — Nearly half of all mobile calls in the United States are robocalls.

Americans received more than 58 billion robocalls in a single year before the pandemic, according to YouMail, a company that develops robocall blocking software.

Billions of more calls were made last year, despite the pandemic.

“Whether you have a landline or a mobile phone doesn't matter,” said telephone technology expert -- and reformed robocaller -- Michael Self. “You're sitting in a hospital room. Those phones are going to get robocalled, too.”

One of out of every six American adults loses money every year from phone scams, according to Hiya's State of the Calls report, costing victims a total of $10 billion.

Robocalls are the number one complaint at the Federal Trade Commission, which sues violators to pay fines.

“If you’re making millions and you pay a fine, that's in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Self said. “It's a cost of doing business.”

“Going to jail is one thing, but paying money, it’s just another bill you have to pay."

We set out find out who are the robocallers, who are the victims and what can be done stop the calls.

The Investigation:

Robocalls: Who are the victims?

Who are the robocallers?

Why can't we stop robocallers?

We bought 16 new cellphones, and most started getting robocalls before we even used them

What you can do to stop getting robocalls

WHAT IS A ROBOCALL?

The term “robocall” should be interpreted as any nuisance or scam call from an unknown caller.  It does not necessarily mean a robot is on the other end of the call. But the term comes from the use of a computerized auto dialer to place the call. Those are often used to make the call look like it’s originating from your area code and a similar number to yours.

ARE ROBOCALLS LEGAL?

According to the FTC, a "robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way. To get your permission, the company has to be clear it’s asking to call you with robocalls, and it can’t make you agree to the calls to get a product or service. If you give permission, you have the right to change your mind later."

WHO ARE THE ROBOCALL VICTIMS?

Anyone can be a victim, but men and younger adults are the groups most likely to fall victim and lose money to a phone scam - particularly men 18-34 years-old, according to TrueCaller, a Robocall blocking app.

HOW DO ROBOCALLS WORK?

WHAT ARE THE ROBOCALLS CALLING ABOUT?

As of FY2019, there were 241,483,968 total active registrations on the FTC's Do Not Call (DNC) list.

The Top 5 DNC robocall complaints were about: 

1. Imposters

2. Warranty/Protection plans

3. Reducing debt

4. Medical and prescriptions

5. Computer and technical support

Of the nearly 4 million complaints received, the FTC said 2.8 million were recorded calls, while 934,000 were live callers.

According to Robocallindex.com, these are the top robocalls by category:

Credit: TEGNA

HOW MANY ROBOCALLS ARE MADE?

Billions of robocalls are made each month, according to Robocallindex.com

In October 2019, some 5.66 billion calls were made nationwide, the website said. While that number decreased to 4.2 billion at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the numbers have since increased. 

In March 2021, some 4.4 billion calls were place -- that's more than 147 million per day.

Credit: TEGNA

The top 10 cities receiving the most robocalls in April 2021 were: 

1. Atlanta

2. Dallas

3. Chicago

4. New York

5. Houston

6. Los Angeles

7. Phoenix

8. Baltimore 

9. Newark

10. Philadelphia

TRACK ROBOCALLS IN YOUR AREA:

Note: Tracking information is provided by YouMail. Our investigation is providing this link for informational purposes only. TEGNA is not associated with YouMail.

WHO ARE THE ROBOCALLERS? 

Our investigation is one of the first to visually connect these robocallers and their businesses together.

Each dot on this chart represents the name of an individual and/or company listed in Federal Trade Commission public filing(s) for certain robocall activities. Each line represents a connection between two or more groups. You can click on each and move them around to see who is connected to who. You can also click the link to increase the size. Chart is best viewed full-screen and horizontally on a mobile device (click here to see the chart )

Federal Communications Commission (FCC):
Each dot on this chart represents the name of an individual and/or company listed in Federal Communications Commission public filing(s) for certain robocall activities. You can also click the link to increase the size.

Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General(s):
Each dot on this chart represents the name of an individual and/or company listed in on the Justice Department's website via press release(s) for certain robocall activities. Each line represents a connection between two or more groups. You can click on each and move them around to see who is connected to who. You can also click the link to increase the size.


WHO'S CALLING? ROBOCALL REVERSE PHONE NUMBER SEARCH

Note: Information about these phone numbers is provided by YouMail. Our investigation is providing this link for informational purposes only. TEGNA is not associated with YouMail.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT ROBOCALLS?

While it can be near impossible to completely rid yourself of robocalls, these are some steps you can take to at least reduce them.