Spam phone calls cost US small businesses half a billion dollars in lost productivity

Spam phone calls cost US small businesses half a billion dollars in lost productivity

Summary: Spam phone calls are annoying, and expensive for businesses. Small businesses in the US lose nearly half a billion dollars a year in lost productivity by handling telemarketing and other unwanted calls,.


Spam callers are an unending source of frustration for many of us and a waste of our time. But the problem is growing and growing according to new data published this week.

Image: Marchex

Marchex Inc. is a mobile advertising technology company from Seattle WA. It aggregated data from nearly 40 million phone calls blocked to  US small businesses using its Clean Call technology during 2013. The findings show:

Although the federal government's national Do Not Call Registry may offer consumers some relief from spam, it leaves businesses exempt and unprotected.

The volume of detected and blocked calls jumped 162 percent from January 2013 to January 2014 and is on track to keep rising with the mass adoption of mobile phones.

Technology has made it cheaper and easier for spammers to blast out up to tens of thousands of phone calls in a matter of minutes.

The average spam call lasts two minutes. That is due in part to spammers using more deceptive practices to keep businesses on the phone for longer.

Marchex has found spammers range from computerized “robocallers” to fraudsters known as "chipmunks."  Chipmunks calls have shrill, altered voices. These callers try to keep the recipient on the phone for 30 seconds.

You pick up the phone and hear a fast paced high pitched voice asking you random questions. The calls are intended to manipulate metrics in click-to-call campaigns. If businesses stay on the phone for 30 seconds or more the call is considered to be a "good" customer call.

Usually if a seller can keep you on the phone for more than 30 seconds, it signals a strong intent to buy. The advertiser pays the call centre for the success of the campaign, measured by call length but in reality there has been no increase in sales. 

Small businesses are more dramatically impacted than large national businesses, which can direct incoming calls at scale through call centers. Answering spam calls wastes nearly 20 million hours a year for small businesses in the US - which translates to about $475 million annually.

Marchex started aggressively going after spam calls in 2011, after noticing the detrimental effect these calls were having on businesses.

Its technology is used by hundreds of thousands of advertisers, and is invisible to the consumer. The algorithms detect and block telemarketer, robocallers and other spam diallers and are regularly updated.

"Unlike spam emails, which can be ignored, spam calls are highly disruptive and costly for businesses that rely on phone calls for sales" said Jason Flaks, Director of Product and Engineering at Marchex.

"This growing epidemic hits small businesses the hardest. Fortunately, there are now solutions to address the problem head-on. Small businesses are vital to our national economy and they can now take steps to reduce the amount of unwanted calls they get" Flaks said.

"We will continue to innovate with new technologies to stop spam from wasting valuable time for business owners and their employees."

Small businesses can protect themselves from spam callers by following these tips. Ask suspected spammers to immediately identify themselves and the reason for their call, request to be put on the telemarketer's internal "do not call" list and finally, hang up if a caller won't get off the line.

Spam callers will not be going away anytime soon but what we can do is to change the way we deal with them?

How do you deal with nuisance spam callers that invade your time and blight your day? I’d love some new tips to use on my own callers.

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO

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  • this practice should be illegal

    this practice should be illegal, any one using it needs to be fined to the max.

    Yeah, hit them where it hearts....
  • Call Control (Android App)

    I don't have a solution for businesses but personnally, I use a small app called Call Control on my Android phone.

    I only whitelisted the contacts in my address book and my immediate area code ... the rest (private/blocked calls, calls from 800 numbers, etc) is automatically blocked (or optionally sent to voice mail).

    The app is extremely customizable and also features a Community Blacklist which keep track of offending numbers ... best few $$$'s I have ever spent.

    Luckily, I rarely receive spam calls for numbers in my area code and when it does I can easily add those numbers to my black list.
    • Correction

      Meant to say Private/Blocked Caller ID not Private/Blocked Calls
    • yea

      You can also blacklist without an app. Just create a couple of contacts say blocked and blocked and start adding annoying callers to those contacts. Configure those two for "send to voicemail" in the android contact app.
      Also handing out Google voice numbers is a good way to go. Ironic that Google has the best spam blocks for email and voice.
  • LOL

    The fax spam law is also very ineffective. It doesn't deter it, and even though fax spammers are supposed to have opt-out numbers and procedures for opting out, many do not. We receive numerous notifications of class action settlement with the ones who actually get caught every year, but it's so cheap that there is almost no stopping it.

    The spam calls are very disruptive to our call operators, even though they can smell these clowns from the moment they pick up because of the background sound, the delay before the person on the other end begins speaking, and the area codes and phone numbers that they are calling from, when the number isn't blocked.

    The best indicator of all is that the call maxes out in the auto-attendant before being rolled through the touch tone gate. How many people own rotary dial phones? How many businesses still do? Yeah. None. We even had to switch our "operator" extension from "0", because some of these firms just auto-dial "0"
  • Caller ID

    We have Caller ID at home and on my phone at my desk at the office (not everyone has it yet), if it is a caller I don't recognize I ignore the call, if they want to talk to me they can leave a message identifying themselves and if I am interested, I wll call back. There are many calls received at home that do not give their number or a name, and those calls definitely get ignored. At work, many times it is a sales call, I don't buy anything for work, of I downloaded a document from their website, they want to know why and if I need more information or help.
    If I happen to pick up my DIAL phone without waiting for the CID capable phone to identify the caller, I have to either hang up or put up with the call.
    • RE: Caller ID

      This is how I handle such callers as well, at work and at home. If I don't recognize the caller ID, I don't answer, but isn't it amazing how many such callers don't leave voice mail. :) Unfortunately, there are others in our office who don't have the luxury of screening calls, the folks in customer service for instance.
  • People are too polite

    The problem is people are too polite and don't hang up immediately once they know it's a spam call. I don't give them more than 5 seconds.

    What you should write about is the billions that are scammed out of small businesses by these thieves who prey on unwitting staffers and receptionists. We've been slammed by a scumbag phone company and had multiple fraudulent services added to our phone bill by fake yellow pages, etc. by these scumbags.
  • Solution is simple

    Use the NSA phone tracking and logs to find the culprits. But...... could the phone companies be in bed with the robocallers? Could they be making money from these calls. Think about it.

    Life is simple.
  • Spam callers in Australia.

    Here in good old Oz we have a "do not call" register that stops any phone marketers based in Oz calling my phone.

    the "do not call" register however does not restrict calls from overseas callers.

    It is usually pretty easy to recognize these scammers because they usually have a very difficult to understand accent.

    I have had 5 calls in the last month from these type of scammers. The last one who called was about viruses on my computer and how they could fix this for a fee.

    First thing I did was say I was very interested & then kept them talking for 5 minutes, then there was a (fictitious) person at the front door (please wait, this is important, just hold on & I will be back soon). This consumed another 5 minutes or more & then we got back to business where he wanted me to install some software on my computer so he could get access to it to fix the problem. After telling him I did not have a computer he ended the call.

    Moral of the story - I wasted 10 minutes of his time in trying to scam some other person, so try & keep these scammers on the phone (or fone) for as long as you can. (I think it's a great sport - my neighbor holds the record of 35 minutes


    • RE: Spam callers in Australia.

      That's funny Ron! :)

      A guy I used to work with, here in the states, told me about doing something similar to a caller at his home one night. He said that he received a sales call while he was having his supper and he answered the call. Like you, he gave the guy some excuse to put the phone down and then went on with his supper. He said that after he finished his meal, he went to hang the phone up, it had apparently been 20 minutes or so, and didn't expect the guy to still be on the phone, but sure enough, the guy was still waiting! So, he told him he wasn't interested and hung up. :)
    • Yeah I agree it is fun..... BUT

      I kind of got out of getting engaged with fuckwits - and having fun doing it, simply because tying up their time, also ties up my time.

      Yes I can get good at it, and yes it can be some great comic relief, but dealing with 10 idiots a month, for 10 or 20 minutes a piece - gets a bit much - and I have other things to do.

      I'd rather buy one of the pressure pack air horns and blow out their ear drum, "Here go waste someone else's time with your good ear" "Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa".
      Jahm Mittt
  • It's not just business calls.

    The DNC list is a joke, and you bet the phone companies are in bed with these miscreants.

    There's a special place reserved in hell for the companies that constantly call me offering me lower interest rates, free cruises and home security.

    It would be easy enough to track these people down and fine them out of existence, but no one seems to want to do that.
  • I apparently died.

    When the tm asked for me, I told him that person died last month and the house was just sold. He just went away and hasn't called back since.
  • We're paying for them.

    My boss is buying spam calls from a yellow pages directory. They set us up with another phone number, published only in their directory, that rings onto our regular line. The theory is that they can show us how many calls came in on that number, and we are to assume those are customers who found us in their yellow pages.
    But they use a computer to call those extra numbers, so at least once a day, we pick up a call to hear dead silence. These dummy calls are supposed to impress us. Scum.
  • Political callers

    My pet peeve is that political parties are not subject to the Do Not Call list. (Of course! They write the law, so they exempt themselves!) They do not tell you who paid for the call. (They just say "Not paid for by any candidate or candidate's committee," but they spout lies about whichever candidate they are against.)

    And it's always a robo-call giving you a recording, so you cannot even tell them to go eff themselves! I hate these scumbags. Of course, I never vote for the stinkwads who make these calls. I wish everyone would be smart enough to vote against them, but of course they keep doing it because it works.

    A friend of mine had a service, provided by the phone company: When you called her you got a recording that said "You have reached a number that does not accept solicitations. If you are a solicitor, please hang up now and put this number on your do-not-call list." She was allowed to create a whitelist of numbers that would not get this recording. But the phone company charged for this service. I suggest a law requiring all phone companies to offer this service free, along with the ability to create whitelists and blacklists of unlimited length.
  • Pick up, hangup immediately

    As soon as I see unavailable, out of area, restricted, 000-000-0000, and area codes I don't recognized, I pickup then immediately hangup unless I feel like "playing" with the telemarketer.

    I really don't want to be bothered by charities, non-profits, political, PAL, and FOP calls either.
    NJ Joe
    • new acronyms

      @NJ Joe: What are PAL and FOP calls? Definition please?
  • Unwanted Calls

    Interestingly, I just received one of these on my land line as I began to type this! I NEVER answer my land line and it went to the answering machine. Some kind of notice to someone who must have had this number years ago. Yesterday, I got a call from "Card Services" on my cell phone. Their number is now blocked by an Android app called Mr. Number which is free and works great. When NationStar Mortgage bought my mortgage from B of A, I received monthly calls from them until I put their number on Mr. Number. Don't call me, I'll call you!!
  • Land line trick

    I have a land line at home. Whenever it rings I mute the TV if it's on and answer the phone and say absolutely nothing. In less than five seconds, they hang up. You can hear the electronic click. Anyone I know who calls, knows by now they have to speak first. I have noticed a definite reduction in SPAM calls. I tried using Special Information Tones (SIT) for a vacant number. However, with unlimited local and US call packages that the phone companies offer these days, the robot programs don't remove the number. They simply try again in a week or so. -- The phone companies are like the tobacco companies. They make money on SPAM calls and they are not going to cut off their nose to spite their face.