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New research: Answering a robocall won't make it worse

Posted August 25, 2020 12:38 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2020 5:40 p.m. EDT

— They call constantly. When you accidentally answer, you’re certain you just set yourself up to get more robocalls.

But that may not be the case, according to new research from an expert at NC State.

"What we learned is that it doesn’t matter whether or not you answer the phone, robo callers are going to try to call you regardless," said Brad Reaves, Assistant Professor of Computer Science.

He spent nearly a year studying robocalls at NC State University.

"On average, the problem isn’t getting worse, but it’s not getting any better either," he said.

His team set up 66,000 phone numbers and tracked them for 11 months.

"Some of them would get robocalls several a day," said Reaves. "Others would go, you know, a week or more without getting a robocall."

The researchers say it didn’t matter whether the number was old, or new or where it originated.

"We couldn’t really figure out why some numbers got more than others," said Reaves.

They did figure out the robocalls stem from sophisticated, massive, overseas operations..

"Some of these call centers, and they are call centers, can take up multiple stories in an office building," Reaves said. "And have computer systems that can call four or five numbers at once, but they also have dozens or potentially hundreds of employees."

They spoof caller IDs and make them appear local to increase the chances you’ll answer.

And those times you pick up and hear silence?

"It’s because a robocaller has called five people at once. One of them was you, but somebody else answered first, and so then they just ignore your call because they’ve already got somebody on there," said Reaves.

Keep in mind, while the research found you’ll get robocalls regardless of whether you answer, engaging with them lets scammers know the have an active audience, and that will likely prompt more calls.

Another interesting revelation involves people who get so many robocalls they can’t use their phone!

Reaves says while rare, call "storms,’ happen when a robocaller uses a phone number that belongs to someone and makes hundreds of thousands of calls.

When recipients call back, the high volume makes it impossible for the owner of that number to use their phone.

However, since robocallers switch numbers often, the inconvenience doesn’t last more than a day or two.

So how do we stop robocalls all together?

The researchers are still working on that part of the mystery, and we can’t wait.

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