New study finds surge in robocalls as Congress weighs legislation

New study finds surge in robocalls as Congress weighs legislation
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Americans received more than twice as many robocalls this year as they did in 2018, according to a new study released this week.

Hiya, a company that develops tools to detect caller identity and protect consumers from scams, estimates in its new report that 54.6 billion robocalls were placed from January to November 2019, up 108 percent from the previous year.

That marks a significant acceleration in frequency. Robocalls increased 46 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to Hiya COO Kush Parikh.

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“The reason that it’s increasing so rapidly is that this is a profitable industry for the scamsters and the fraudsters,” Parikh told The Hill in a phone interview. “It’s a $9 billion industry and growing.”

Hiya found that the average American received 14 robocalls and spam calls, often with the intention of stealing their personal information, per month in 2019.

The company calculated robocall growth by analyzing spam calls detected among Hiya’s users combined with data from national carriers.

The rapid growth in robocalls has triggered public complaints that have pushed lawmakers and agencies into action.

The House earlier this month approved compromise legislation tackling robocalls, which is expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of the year.

The Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, named after its sponsors in the House and Senate, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses MORE (R-S.D.), would require phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers any extra money and would require most carriers in the U.S. to ensure that calls are coming from real numbers.

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It would also give government regulators more authority to find and penalize scammers.

But industry experts caution that the TRACED Act alone is not enough given the scale of the problem.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Parikh said.

“It’s a big step in the right direction. ... Once this is implemented, that doesn’t mean that spamming is going to stop,” he continued, citing the developments from spam callers and lags in recognition technology and expertise.

Outside of Congress, federal, state and local authorities have been taking their own steps to address robocalls.

This summer, the Federal Communications Commission voted to allow phone carriers to block suspicious calls by default. 

Last month, a group of attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., joined executives from 12 phone companies to announce a sweeping effort to combat illegal robocalls.

Updated at 6:34 p.m.