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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

43 mins ago - Health

U.S. ahead of pace on vaccines

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Ruleville, Mississippi. Photo: Rory Doyle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. is now vaccinating an average of 2 million people a day, up from 1.3 million in early February.

Why it matters: That puts us on track to hit President Biden's goal of 100 million doses a month ahead of schedule.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Harris breaks tie as Senate proceeds with lengthy debate on COVID relief bill

Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Senate on Thursday voted 51-50 — with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie — to proceed to debate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, likely setting up a final vote this weekend.

The state of play: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is forcing the Senate clerk to read the entire 628-page bill on the floor, a procedural move that will likely add 10 hours to the 20 hours already allotted for debate.

3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu campaigns against Biden's plan to save Iran deal

Netanyahu campaigns at a gym last month. Photo: Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly criticized the Biden administration for its intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal and told his supporters he was prepared to "stand against the entire world" to stop it.

Why it matters: This is a major change of tune for Netanyahu, who had been careful in his statements on the Iran deal and avoided publicly criticizing President Biden. The statement was part of Netanyahu's attempt to rally his base ahead of Israel's election on March 23.