Spam and scam calls are going mobile

Cell phones used to be immune from the annoying scam and spam telemarketing robocalls that have bedeviled land line users for years. No longer.

More than half of cell phone users report having received a scam call in the past month. And repeated scam and spam calls to mobile phones have quadrupled over the past two years, according to a new survey.

Several factors can explain the increase, said Jonathan Sasse, chief marketing officer of First Orion Network Enterprise Solutions, which commissioned the study. More people are using their cell phones as a primary form of contact, thus sharing the numbers on everything from rent applications and resumes to website forms and contests. Some consumers also include their cell phone numbers in email signature lines.

"Once a mobile number is out there, scammers and telemarketers will find a way to call you," Sasse added. "When it comes to scammers, these aren't legitimate companies following the rules. They're after your mobile number however they can get it, even if it means using auto-dialers to try any possible combination of phone numbers to target people."

Moreover, the cost of random-dialing equipment has dropped "to practically nothing," said John Oldshue, chief executive of SaveOnPhone, a cell phone shopping website. That's allowing offshore telemarketing "boiler room" operations to proliferate.

Roughly 80 million unwanted calls are made to cell phones each day. First Orion's latest survey, which polled 1,000 mobile phone users, found that over three-quarters of respondents received a scam call in the past year, a 15 percent increase from the company's previous survey in 2015. 

However, 12 percent of consumers reported getting 20 scam calls or more in just the past six months -- a four-fold increase over the 3 percent who reported repeated scam calls in the previous survey.

Unfortunately, old-school solutions to junk calls, such as signing up for the Do Not Call Registry, are ineffective at handling the preponderance of today's scam and spam calling.

"The Do Not Call Registry is only effective in stopping legitimate telemarketers from calling you," said Oldshue. "These guys set up calling centers in Bangladesh. They're not playing by the rules."

That said, a wealth of services are available that can block the bulk of these calls. Though many charge annual or monthly fees, some caller-ID and blocking services are free. Hiya, for instance, offers a free phone app that provides caller ID and call blocking. Nomorobo provides the same free service for land lines.