Robocalls have been on the rise. Photo: Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Robocalls are on the rise and have become a regular annoyance for the millions of Americans who complain to regulators about them.

Why it matters: The telecom industry and policymakers have taken steps to curb the influx of calls, but efforts have so far haven't made much of a dent in the problem. Still, some hope recent changes will stem the tide of annoying — and sometimes costly — robocalls.

By the numbers:

The robocall problem is growing.

  • There were roughly 4.1 billion robocalls in May, 2018, according to YouMail, which provides call-blocking software.
  • It was only 2.6 billion nationwide a year prior.

Consumers are frustrated.

  • The Federal Communications Commission receives around 200,000 complaints a year about unwanted calls, a spokesperson said.
  • The Federal Trade Commission reports that in the 2017 fiscal year, there were about 4.5 million complaints about robocalls violating a telemarketing rule.

The financial consequences.

  • A study by Truecaller, which makes caller ID software, estimates that in 2017 the total cost of phone scams was roughly $9.5 billion.
  • 21 Chinese immigrants had, as of this spring, lost $2.5 million to a robocall scam aimed at Chinese speakers, the NYPD said in April.
The bigger picture

Robocalls are hard to combat because because of the complexity of the telephone networks — which involve many different phone companies — reports the New York Times. Scammers have also taken to "spoofing" telephone numbers, which is why consumers see automated calls coming from numbers with their area code.

  • The national Do Not Call list failed to head off the recent wave of calls.

Yes, but: A renewed offense against the calls could reduce them over the next few years.

  • Telecom carriers are planning to roll out a system for verifying legitimate calls soon, the Wall Street Journal reports. The FCC is moving towards creating a standard for authenticating calls.
  • The FCC has also created rules that allow phone carriers to block malicious robocalls.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that robocalls violate a broader telemarketing rule, whether or not the recipient is in the national Do Not Call registry.

Go deeper

The apocalypse scenario

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!