Rick Barrett, Milwaukee
Instead of just hanging up or letting the calls go to voicemail, Barry Orton attempts to shame phone scammers into seeking another line of work.
The retired University of Wisconsin-Madison telecom professor gets the usual mix of calls peddling everything from back braces to extended car warranties. When it’s a scam and there’s a real person on the line and not a robot, he makes the call a bit personal.
“I tell them that their parents or grandparents would be ashamed if they knew what they were doing. And can’t they get an honest job?” Orton says.
Usually the caller just hangs up.
But the volume of these calls has soared in recent years, including billions of “robocalls” made by machines on behalf of individuals often flouting the law.
Wisconsin received more than 500 million robocalls in 2019, up about 80% in the last three years, according to YouMail, a robocall blocking service that uses its database to come up with the estimates.
Area code 414 received the most robocalls in the state in 2019, an estimated 147,962,500; followed by area codes 608 at 103,569,800; 920 at 96,841,100; 262 at 92,373,800; and 715 at 74,760,400.
Nationwide, in January alone, there were an estimated 4.7 billion robocalls.
Not all robocalling practices are illegal, such as those where you’ve given the caller written consent to be contacted and messages from certain health care providers, political campaigns and debt collectors.
But, nationwide, about 50% of the robocalls are probably in violation of federal laws, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, based in Irvine, California.
And while the number that appears on a Caller ID may look as though it’s from someone in your area code, it could be a scammer from nearly anywhere in the world disguising their true identity.
The practice is known as “spoofing.”
“We advise people that if they don’t recognize the number, don’t pick up the call,” said Lara Sutherlin, administrator of the consumer protection division of Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Instead, let it go into voicemail and then check on it.