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'Chasing ghosts': Why it's so hard to stop robocalls

Americans were bombarded with a record number of 5.7 billion robocalls last month, amounting to more than 17 calls per person. The problem has gotten so bad that a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently announced a deal to tackle the “scourge” of robocalls.

According to a new report from Pindrop, an information security company, 90 voice channel attacks occur every minute in the U.S. "What it means is we’re seeing that the trend of robocalls is continuing to increase." Pindrop CEO & Co-Founder Vijay Balasubramaniyan told Yahoo Finance's YFi AM on Friday.

Why is it so hard to stop robocalls? For one thing, it’s tough to tell where they’re actually coming from.

“So you can set up a voiceover IP system, somewhere in India or somewhere in the Philippines and make a call appear as if it’s coming from within the U.S,” he said.

“Actually peeling back the onion is really, really hard and so what ends up happening is that you’re chasing ghosts. You try to understand that it's coming from a particular source, but then that source says it’s actually coming from another source and so you’re constantly peeling back layers of the onion and not getting to the true origin.”

Robocalls are difficult to stop. Image: Getty

Senior citizens are often a targeted group of voice call fraud. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported the story of an oncology nurse in her 60s who lost nearly $340,000 from a scam that began with a robocall. As the Journal reported, the caller convinced the woman that her identity had been stolen, kept her in an isolated and fearful state, and persuaded her to transfer her retirement savings.

"Elder abuse is a big thing. And it’s not only a big thing on robocalls, it’s also a big thing when they actually call the bank, they say hey I’m the son or the daughter of that senior citizen, and try to steal money from that angle,” Balasubramaniyan said.

How to protect yourself

While it might seem impossible to stop robocalls, consumers can take some steps to protect themselves.

"Oftentimes the first indication that you’re going to get a robocall is a silent call. So you often just get a call and no one is on the other end and what ends up happening is they’re trying to see if you would even pick up that call,” said the Pindrop CEO. “So the fact that you pick up and you hear silence on the other end, indicates that you are susceptible, most susceptible to a robocall."

The best way to avoid robocalls is to be wary and digiligent.

"If you happen to pick up that first call then on subsequent calls what you need to do is be aware that when people are asking you to hey, I’m from your bank, I’m from your insurance, I’m from the IRS. You always need to go to the website and call the number of your bank or insurance to ensure that it’s really your bank calling you as opposed to doing everything at their bidding.”

Read more:

3 ways Washington is set to take on the ‘scourge’ of robocalls

Phone companies must adopt robocall-blocking tech by year-end: FCC

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