COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - To say it's annoying would be an understatement, but scammers and spammers call American phones at staggering rates: about 3.5 billion times last month, 118 million calls a day, and more than 3,000 of them each second.
"I feel like I get one every other day like often where it's an 864-number and it's the 'resort rewards' program," said Eleanor Camelo, a USC student from Greenville.
"A lot of times, during the week, I'll get like an 843 number," added Alexis Kelly, a USC student from Summerville. "Answer the phone call, and it's just
some scam, so they're just trying to tell me I've won a free hotel. I've had the free cruise before. I've also had like do you need to pay off students loans and things like that."
As scammers and spammers 'spoof' their numbers at an alarming rate, lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would track them down and punish them. But will legislation really work?
"If you have a two or three man IRS phone scam operation working out of a dirty back room somewhere in, you know, the Far East, it is unlikely those people have any fear that the long arm of the American justice system is going to reach across continents," said Ethan Garr.
Garr isn't against legislation, but his answer is technology. His company has designed an app called RoboKiller.com, an app that blocks unwanted calls in an unusual way. Recorded voices strung together in hilarious scenarios waste scammers' and spammers' time. One humorous voice recording (perhaps, ironically) offers the telemarketer or scammer a free cruise. Another scenario is of a man's voice with a bad Russian accent. "Are you calling from the Gulag," the recording will ask a telemarketer or scammer.
"If we can get on that phone and waste their time, what's valuable about it is it's not just helping our users -- certainly, they're happy – they're not getting a call," said Garr. "It's blocked. They're just getting a notification that says, 'Hey, RoboKiller blocked a call for you.'"
But Garr says, more importantly, his app makes scammers lose out on revenue when it wastes their time.
It may seem like fun, but he says scammers and spammers are hurting people. You can download RoboKiller.com for a small monthly or yearly price if you have an iPhone. The Android version will be out soon. Of course, RoboKiller is just one of several apps designed for that same reason.
As for the legislation, Representative Rick Martin (R-Newberry), a sponsor, said it's not a cure-all, but it's a good start. He believes law enforcement – with the help of the phone companies – will be able to track down scammers and spammers to punish them.
The bill has overwhelmingly passed the House. Now, it waits for a vote from the Senate.