Believe it or not, famous podcasters really are just like the rest of us, with the same everyday problems and challenges. For example, Motley Fool Answers co-hosts Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick are plagued by that scourge of modern life: robocallers.
And in this episode's "What's Up, Allison?" segment, they detail the latest news on the subject, which is not good. In January, Americans received 2.9 billion robocalls, and by June, it was up to 4.1 billion, and the government is at something of a loss as to how to stop the rising flood of audio spam and scams.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Aug. 7, 2018.
Robert Brokamp: So Alison, what's up?
Alison Southwick: Oh, I'll tell you what's up, Broseph. Every day I get at least two robocalls and I am sick of it!
Brokamp: On your cellphone?
Brokamp: Yes, it drives me nuts.
Southwick: It drives everybody nuts. Rick?
Rick Engdahl: I don't answer the phone if it doesn't say who's calling anymore. I just don't even answer.
Southwick: Right. So it turns out we're not alone in our suffering. Robocalls have jumped dramatically nationwide this year form 2.9 billion in January to 4.1 billion in the month of June.
Brokamp: Billion? Billion.
Brokamp: Holy cow!
Southwick: In the first five months of this year, alone, that totals 16.3 billion robocalls. And three of the top 10 area codes for robocalls are in Atlanta, so we don't even have it as bad as people in Atlanta. And it's also July, there, so they're really suffering, because it's so hot.
Brokamp: Because it's so hot!
Southwick: It's hot and their phone won't stop ringing. Robocalls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the FTC [19,000 a day, in fact]. The Washington Post describes the FTC's attempt to stem the problem as "a commercial fisherman trying to use his bare hands." Much of the problem has to do with the lack of FTC resources but also how robocallers have gotten so sneaky.
So, they can spoof your local area code. All of the calls I get spoof the first six numbers of my phone number, and then the last four are different digits. And then thanks to voice over IP --VoIP -- do you say voice or do you have to spell it out?
Brokamp: Sure. You can do whatever you want.
Southwick: Basically the idea that you can make phone calls over your computer makes tracking these people down nearly impossible. They could literally be calling from anywhere in the world and it doesn't help that those who are breaking the law know that they're breaking the law and they don't care.
While most of us would call them pesky and annoying, for some people they are being outright scammed. Take, for example, a new call that people are getting which is in Chinese. Have you gotten this one? My husband has gotten this one.
Southwick: You answer the phone and a message says [again, in Chinese] that they are from the consulate and there's a problem, or maybe a package needs to be picked up, and the person needs to submit their credit card number or bank information.
Brokamp: If it's in Chinese, how do they know what's being said?
Southwick: Well because someone not in the Southwick household speaks Chinese and wrote an article. I mean, someone is able to speak Chinese in the United States and figured it out. Not us. I didn't know what it was until I read this article.
Brokamp: Got you.
Southwick: In New York City, alone, 30 residents have been scammed out of $3 million.
Brokamp: Oh, geez, Louise.
Southwick: So let's give you a sense of the volume that these robocallers are willing to make. There are more than what? 300 million people in the United States? 330 million? And in America there are 2.9 million people who speak Chinese. These robocallers are willing to make thousands of robocalls just to hit upon one person who speaks Chinese in America.
To sum up the problem, robocallers are happy to break the law. They have the technology that enables them to elude authorities and also make a ton of calls. Is there hope, you wonder?
Brokamp: I am wondering that. Is there?
Southwick: Well, I don't have much good news for you. Not really. The Washington Post reports that on the horizon perhaps there is this moonshot called Caller ID Authentication, which would function like that blue Twitter check mark to verify your identity. It's being developed by some telecom providers and so it's being tested by AT&T and Comcast. It may or may not come out in 2018.
So, in the meantime what can we all do? Well, here's what the experts say you should try. Like Rick, if you don't recognize the number, don't answer it. But if you're someone like me who gets calls from strangers all the time because I work in PR [and you do have to answer it and you pick up the phone on a robocaller] you can block the number on your mobile phone [but good luck with that because they're just going to call you on another spoof number].
You can make sure you're on the Do Not Call Registry with the FTC, but know that that probably won't help because, again, most of these people are knowingly breaking the law.
You can check with your cellphone provider to see if they already offer some sort of service. AT&T customers have a thing they can do called AT&T Call Protect app. I think Verizon also has some options to help people out.
There are other apps. Admitting that the FTC was in over their head they created a competition and invited developers to create a technological solution. One of the solutions is called Nomorobo. This one is free for landlines, but it charges $1.99 a month for mobile phones. We don't have a landline. This is not necessarily a good option for us. But for my dad -- who completely stopped answering his home phone -- this might be a good option.
There's another top-rated app called RoboKiller. It's $2.49 a month, but this a good one for the particularly vengeful, because this app doesn't just block calls. It apparently deploys answer bots that keep the scammers on the phone...
Brokamp: I've heard about these...
Southwick: ... and decreases the number of calls they'll be able to make.
Brokamp: They have something on YouTube. You've got to watch them. They're pretty funny.
Southwick: They claim they'll reduce 90% of spam calls you receive in 30 days. There's a free app called Hiya. People seem to have some amount of luck with that. But again, if you're someone like me, you just have to suffer because I have to answer my phone. I can't not answer my phone. It could be a reporter.
I'll end with one crazy story in the news this week. This is from the Chicago Tribune. In 2016, Caribbean Cruise Line agreed to pay between $56 million and $76 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the company and its codefendants made millions of robocalls offering free cruise trips. Individual class members could get up to $500 per call received.
So learning by word of mouth about the settlement, days before the filing deadline Sears [yes, the struggling retailer] put in an initial claim for 18 robocalls saying 18 of our employees received these calls. We want to get paid the $500 a pop per person, and by the way, we also want an extension. So they amended their claim and said, "Actually, our employees suffered as a result of 12,424 calls."
Southwick: Which at $500 a pop could mean a windfall of $6 million for Sears. I don't know what lawyer at Sears was like, "Wait a second. I'm going to keep this ship from sinking just a little longer. I've got the solution. We're going to start entering class action lawsuits." Poor Sears! Anyway, they're waiting to hear if the judge will accept their amended claim.
And in a fun, ironic twist, while Sears is trying to get paid from Caribbean Cruise Lines for getting robocalled, they are also getting taken to court. The lawsuit is seeking class action status alleging that Sears made unsolicited autodialed calls to consumers without their consent to pitch Sears Home Services in violation of the same federal law.
So, yeah, robocalls. It's only going to get worse and that's what's up.