Getting tons of robocalls, Tampa Bay? You’re not alone. Florida ranks as a Top 10 state.

Robocalls more than doubled since 2016, according to one industry estimate.
Stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Published May 2, 2019|Updated May 2, 2019

Tell us Tampa Bay: Are you getting several calls a day from robocallers? Are you fooled into answering some of them because they come from your own area code?

We hear you. It’s happening to a lot of us.

According to YouMail, a voicemail provider that tracks the number of robocalls and also offers a blocking service, Florida residents are some of the top targets of robocallers.

Robocalls are prerecorded messages that can be sent out to thousands of phones at once. Some are from politicians or businesses conducting them for legitimate reasons, but a large part of them are illegal or are from outfits trying to scam people.

About 48 billion robocalls were made last year nationwide, according to YouMail. That’s about 5.5 million calls every hour. The number is on the rise, too. YouMail projects between 60 billion and 75 billion robocalls in 2019, and a 2018 report by First Orion estimates that almost 45 percent of all calls to cell phones in 2019 will be spam or junk calls.

It’s hard to nail down one reason for the increase, but one explanation is that they are extremely effective. Marketers are able to make a lot of phone calls in a short amount of time for a relatively low cost. In addition, it’s becoming harder and harder to pinpoint the origins of the calls. Many robocallers use a method known as spoofing to change their caller ID.

So, just how much of a problem are robocalls in Florida and in the Tampa Bay area? Here’s a look at the annoying calls by the numbers, according to YouMail data.

How many robocalls are we getting?

Robocalls have increased a whopping 120 percent in Florida from 2016 to 2018.

In 2018, there were more than 450 million robocalls in Tampa alone.

How does Florida compare to other places?

Florida received the ninth most robocalls per person in April 2019.

In April 2019, more than 360 million robocalls were made in Florida.

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Several factors could affect why certain places get more robocalls than others. One trend, for instance, is that robocalls disproportionately affect southern states.

“That’s a mystery we’ve been digging into,” Alex Quilici, the CEO of YouMail, said. “One hypothesis is that people in the south are more likely to answer the phone. If you answer the phone, you’re going to get more robocalls.”

The socioeconomic status of an area also can be a factor, Quilici said. One of the most common types of robocalls are payment reminders, which is why there may be more robocalls in poor areas.

In Florida, more than 19 percent of robocalls made in April were payment reminders. That’s the second-most popular category after scam calls, which make up a whopping 41 percent of all robocalls in Florida.

The 813 and 727 area codes ranked in the top 100 affected by robocalls nationally in April 2019

The 813 area code, which includes Tampa, received the 26th most robocalls per person at a rate of 25.6. The 727 area code, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, ranked 73rd with 16.6 calls per person.

There are 14 other Florida area codes that rank in the top 100 areas affected by robocalls. The 954 area code that comprises the Fort Lauderdale region had the 15th most robocalls -- tops in the state.

Here are the top callers in Florida

  1. 800-955-6600. The caller ID is Capital One Payments/Collections.
  2. 855-245-7089. The caller ID Transworld Systems Incorporated, which is a debt collection firm.
  3. 877-647-8552. This caller ID is Wells Fargo.
  4. 888-222-4227 The caller ID is listed as Santander, which for those who don’t know, is a retail banking company.
  5. 800-266-2278 The caller ID is Comcast.

People who receive numerous robocalls a day may notice that the area code of the robocall matches that of the place they reside. This strategy is known as neighborhood spoofing and is one of the many ways callers increase the chances of someone picking up the phone. Spoofing allows robocallers to pick whatever caller ID it wants. Calls can go through a maze of networks, making it hard to pinpoint their origins, and crack down on bad actors.

There’s no doubt robocalls are annoying, but the practice of spoofing has plagued the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa -- to the point that patients are getting scam calls. The chief security officer at Moffitt warned Congress on Tuesday that robocalls are targeting patients by faking that they are coming from within the hospital.

Dave Summitt said Moffitt received 6,600 calls over a 90-day period from numbers using Moffitt’s caller ID, even though the call was coming from someone outside the organization.

“If they happen to get a hold of one of our patients and it’s called Moffitt Cancer Center, they are absolutely going to answer that phone and they are extracting information that can be detrimental to those patients," he said.

Will robocalls ever end?

It’s unlikely that robocalls will ever be eradicated, but Quilici says he sees a future where the problem improves.

“I think robocalls are today’s scam emails or viruses," he said. "Ten years ago everyone was worried about computer viruses, but they eventually have gone away. You’ll still get a few, but it’s not going to be the crazy amount we see today.”

In 2003, the FCC adopted the no-call list as a way to protect consumers from telemarketers, but if robocallers are already breaking the rules, the list won’t stop them.

Currently, there are at least six bills being considered at the federal level to combat these calls. For example, H.R. 946, the “Stopping Bad Robocalls Act,” by Rep. Pallone, D-NJ, would require that the FCC to submit annual reports to Congress detailing the FCC’s progress in stopping robocalls.