In Antioch, Illinois, Linda Hensgen’s quiet life of retirement keeps getting interrupted.
Several times a day, her cell and home phone will ring. But when Hensgen answers, it’s usually an automated call on the other end.
“We get more robocalls during the day than we do real phone calls,” she said. “Most people would say ‘don’t answer the phone.’ But we don’t do that here.”
Hensgen said she answers because many callers are dialing from familiar numbers with a local area code.
The experts call that “neighborhood spoofing.” Scammers have learned to disguise numbers to look like ones from your area, which might make you more likely to answer.
And the robocalls are relentless.
Data collected by YouMail, a tech company that focuses on telecommunications and markets a robocall blocking app, shows the number of automated calls placed nationwide increased 50 percent from February to July.
A mind-numbing 4.4 billion robocalls were placed to Americans in September. About 40 percent of those were scams, YouMail found.
So how does your area code stack up when it comes to robocalls?
Those in the south suburbs with area code 708 had a higher number of robocalls last month than their 847, 224 and 630 counterparts in the north, northwest and western suburbs.
Northwest Indiana residents with a 219 area code received almost 11 robocalls per phone.
Surprisingly, those with a 312 number received the fewest robocalls in the state, according to the data.
And by far the worst in the Chicagoland area belonged to area code 773, with an average of more than 13 robocalls per person, and a total of more than 40 million robocalls in September, according to YouMail.
However, that pales in comparison to the most robocalled area in the nation. That distinction goes to area code 404 in Atlanta, Georgia, where residents suffered an average 69 robocalls per person and more than 84 million robocalls total in September.
“There’s been an explosion in the scam calls,” said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail. “It got very easy for people to make them. There’s a whole bunch of scammers calling number after number after number, hoping someone will answer to pitch them on their scam.”
If you feel like you are getting substantially more robocalls than the data might suggest, you could be right. Many phone numbers receive far more robocalls than the average.
Robocalls have consequences that extend far beyond simple annoyances. Gary Pess is a hand surgeon who said that robocalls are affecting his practice, and even his patients’ safety.
“My phone is my link to the hospitals, to the emergency rooms,” he said.
Pess said that he has been “plagued endlessly” by robocalls to the point where he lets all unknown calls go to voicemail.
“I try to call back as quickly as possible,” he said. “But it’s a waste of time because you still have to listen to the voicemail.”
Pess said that the barrage of robocalls causes delays in patient care, which can ultimately result in serious consequences for patients with life-threatening problems.
So what can consumers do?
The Federal Communications Commission recommends joining the national “Do Not Call” registry. That, however, will only block calls from legitimate telemarketers.
“The Do Not Call list did what it was designed to do,” Quilici said. “The problem is scammers could care less. And they’re going to call regardless.”
Experts recommend installing a robocall blocking app, which tells the scammers that your number is a dead line.
The biggest piece of advice is to not pick up or return calls to an unknown number.
“When a robocaller calls you, and you answer, they think, ‘oh good, this is a great number,’” Quilici said.