Virginia, nation see increase in spam robocalls, even after federal action

See how many recent calls have hit the Roanoke and Lynchburg areas

Annoying robocalls are still a problem in America. Despite federal efforts to stop them, spam calls are on the rise once again.

There was an increase in spam calls of more than 10% in October compared to the previous month.

Multiple companies that track them report there were between 5 billion and 6 billion in October, nearly a record. It serves as a reminder for people to never give out their information when they get this type of call, said Julie Wheeler, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving western Virginia.

“Robocalls are alive and well and, unfortunately, they seem to find different ways to get at us on a daily basis,” Wheeler said.

In October, there were nearly 19 million spam robocalls made to people in the Roanoke Valley and more than 7 million in the Lynchburg area. The top tactic locally was pursuing debt collections, and, nationwide, scammers’ main strategy was health-related.

Here are the local stats for the month of October:

Roanoke: 18.9 million spam calls
•    Debt Collector 31.73%
•    Religious 16.23%
•    Telemarketer 15.35%
•    Health Insurance 14.11%

Lynchburg: 7.4 million spam calls 
•    Debt Collector 37.11%
•    Telemarketer 16.14%
•    Healthcare 13.30%
•    Loan Offer 12%

The data comes from the company behind the call-blocking app, RoboKiller, which also studies and tracks spam calls.

“[Spam calls] have really robbed us of that connection to really one of the most important pieces of technology that we carry,” said Ethan Garr, senior VP of strategic growth for RoboKiller.

The app blocks spam calls and even answers them with bots, wasting the scammers’ time.

“When they get to that human behind that call and waste their time, that’s time that that person, the person who can reach into your pocket and steal your money or steal your identity, can’t call somebody else,” Garr said.

Here’s what experts say people can use to stop them.

-Call-blocking services from service providers or companies that make phones. Most have both free and premium options
-The National Do Not Call Registry
-Do not disturb settings that block all calls from numbers not in your contacts
-Third-party call-blocking apps, meaning anyone else can leave you a voicemail

Wheeler wants to remind people to make sure third-party apps are legitimate.

“Do your homework on it. Read about it. Make sure you understand what the privacy policy is and what information they’re actually going to have access to on your phone,” Wheeler said.

New federal laws help law enforcement and carriers fight the calls, but they keep on coming.

Another new tactic for scammers is hijacking people’s phone numbers, leaving them unable to call or text, often through stealing account information. A federal agency issued a warning about it last month.