Complaints of illegal robocalls and prerecorded telemarketing voice messages nearly doubled over the last two years, according to a new batch of statistics released by the Federal Trade Commission.
The agency’s report, which chronicles the millions of ways telemarketers, debt collectors and unscrupulous businesses violate the National Do Not Call Registry, suggests that America may be facing an unprecedented epidemic of unwanted phone calls and text messages.
Robocall Complaints: 7,150,422 In 2017
In 2017, Americans reported 7,150,422 unlawful violations of the National Do Not Call Registry, with an average of 80,200 complaints submitted from each state. That’s almost exactly twice as many complaints as were filed in 2015, when the FTC received 3,578,720 reports of illegal robocalls.
Do these numbers reflect a dramatic increase in the number of robocalls that American consumers are receiving, or are we just more sensitive to, and more likely to report, unwanted phone calls today?
States Under Seige
Five states dominate this year’s list, accounting for nearly 40% of all the reports filed in America:
- California – 824,692
- Florida – 588,021
- Texas – 559,563
- New York – 454,100
- New Jersey – 321,393
California, Florida, Texas and New York also happen to be the four most-populous states in the nation. Obviously, large populations lead to high numbers of complaints. No one reports fewer robocalls than the residents of Puerto Rico, who submitted only 1,638 complaints in 2017.
What The FTC Data Leaves Out
The FTC’s trove of statistics doesn’t track all robocalls; it only tabulates reported violations of the National Do-Not-Call Registry, the voluntary list of numbers (both residential and cellular) that telemarketers aren’t allowed to call. And, since we can assume that many call recipients never file a report with the FTC, robocalls are undoubtedly an under-reported threat to personal privacy and consumer sanity.
But even with these restrictions, the Federal Trade Commission’s statistics are still our best source of data on where robocalls are most common.
In the Do Not Call Registry Data Book 2017, the federal agency reports both raw numbers (the total number of complaints submitted by residents of each state) and statistics normalized to account for variations in state population (number of complaints per 100,000 people), giving us a rough picture of the likelihood of reporting a robocall in any given state.
The Largest & Smallest States For Robocall Reports
|STATE||TOTAL COMPLAINTS||COMPLAINTS PER 100K POP.|
We’ve already seen that populous states like California, New York and Texas account for a disproportionate number of complaints, as you would reasonably expect. But we can also parse the FTC’s data in another way, to understand where robocalls are most likely to strike.
Where Are Robocalls Most Common?
You’re twice as likely to report a robocall in violation of the National Do Not Call Registry (at least according to these report numbers) in New Jersey than Washington State. By that metric, the 50 states are actually more similar than different.
Unlike the raw numbers, where five large states dominated the table, switching to an analysis that tries to control for population finds most states bunched up between 3,000 and 2,000 reported robocalls per 100,000 members of the population.
New Jersey tops the list with 3,593 complaints per 100,000 members of the State’s population. The District of Columbia comes close behind at 3,568 complaints per 100,000 (not surprising, given the reliance on robocalls among political campaigns).
Surprisingly, it’s Delaware, not New York or Texas, that rounds out the top 3, with 2,909 robocalls per 100,000. In fact, New York only comes in at 19th, at 2,300 calls per 100,000; Texas is a surprisingly-low 32nd, with 2,008 per 100,000 people.
Are Some People Just More Likely To Report?
You’re almost one-third times more likely to get a Do Not Call Registry-violating robocall in Texas than you are in Delaware. Or, possibly, people in Delaware are about one-third times more likely to report robocalls than people who live in Texas; perhaps Texans, imbued by the State’s libertarian ethos, are less apt to complain to the government than people living in the Democratic bastions of the Northeast.
In other words, you could argue that statistics based on consumer-driven complaints aren’t a very good way of studying these problems.
What Can Robocall Complaints Tell Us?
None of these numbers tell us how many robocalls or National Do Not Call Registry violations occurred in a given state; they don’t even tell us how many people in each state took the time to report a robocall, because a single person could report every robocall they receive.
And people in one state may be more likely to submit complaints than residents from another state, so comparing the rate of complaints (as in, complaints per 100,000 members of the population) might tell us more about the residents of a state and their mindset than the actual burden of robocalls.
All of those objections are probably at least half-true, but it doesn’t mean the FTC’s data is a total wash. What we get, after looking through the data, is a very general picture of the situation.
Increasing Robocall Trend Is A Real Problem
What is striking about the FTC’s new report, however, isn’t really the raw numbers, which, at 7,150,422 total complaints, sound astounding on their own. More important is the enormous increase in reported robocalls over time.
New Jersey provides us with a clear example of this phenomenon. At 321,393 robocall complaints in 2017, New Jersey tops the list. But just two years ago, residents of the State reported only 141,684 violations of the National Do Not Call Registry. That’s an increase of 127% in the span of 2 years. The State’s population only increased by 0.5% over the same time period.