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48 billion robocalls annoyed Americans last year

HBO late-night host John Oliver called out the FCC on his show last week for the robocall problem plaguing American cellphones, drawing nationwide attention to the problem that almost every American is dealing with. 

Data: Robocall Index, American Community Survey; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

Why it matters: It's one of the most complained-about issues in America. The FCC gets roughly 200,000 complaints each year about robocalls. Nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in 2018, according to YouMail Robocall Index.

Driving the news: While the problem impacts almost every cellphone user in America, data from Robocall Index shows that area codes from certain parts of the country are much more likely to be used for robocalls. 

How it works: Robocalls from certain areas in the U.S. don't necessarily reflect where the originator of the call is coming from. Often scammers use a very popular technique called "neighbor spoofing," in which they copy the area codes of local jurisdictions to make it more likely that people will pick up the phone.

  • Washington, D.C., has a high population of robocalls to its population because scammers often pretend to be calling on behalf of government agencies like the IRS or ICE.
  • Robocall area codes also tend to reflect highly-populated areas. Some regions, like Atlanta, and parts of the Southeast region of the U.S. and southern border states also have high percentages of robocalls mimicking those area codes.
  • This could be, according to a telecom source who works very closely on the robocall issue, because robocallers tend to target vulnerable populations, like older people, immigrants and minorities.

The big picture: The FCC has prioritized the problem and has introduced new standard to tackle robocalls last month. Most of the major wireless carriers have committed to implementing standards that verify if a call is real or if it comes from a computer.

Go deeper: New efforts could reduce robocalls over the next few years