Dayton had 17.1M robocalls last month. October will be worse.

A woman on her cell phone walks past a Dayton mural in downtown. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton-area phone numbers received about 17.1 million robocall last month, the fourth-straight month the unwanted calls have increased — and are expected to surge even more this month because of the election.

Robocalls dropped sharply early in the pandemic as call centers closed around the globe. Dayton-area residents received 12.7 million calls in May, says YouMail, which offers a free robocall blocking app for mobile phones.

Ohio already has the fourth most unwanted calls in the nation, and it has seen a huge increase in political calls seeking volunteers or donors because it is a battleground state, said Bill Versen, chief product officer at Transaction Network Services, which offers robocall detection and protection assistance.

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“Americans can absolutely anticipate a spike in robocalling ahead of the election,” Versen said. “Earlier this year, nearly every state saw a rise in robocall volume in the week leading up to its primary election.”

Robocalls are prerecorded voice calls from telemarketers and scammers, who often use cheap and easy autodialing technology, according to federal regulators. Robocalls can be made over the internet and originate from all over the world.

Robocalls declined earlier this year because legal and illegal call centers shut down during the pandemic, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.

“(There) is no point to robocall if there’s no one there when someone answers, or presses 1, or calls back,” he said.

CNN reported that declining robocall volumes coincided with the shut down of call centers around the globe, including in places like India, Pakistan and the Philippines. Many workers who place unwanted robocalls couldn’t work from home or were laid off or furloughed, the news outlet reported.

But global lockdowns have been easing.

Ohioans have received nearly 380 million unwanted calls this year, which is more than all but three other states, said Versen, with Transaction Network Services.

The Dayton region is in the top 35 metropolitan statistical areas for unwanted calls, he said. On average, Dayton-area residents have each received more than 107 robocalls this year, YouMail says.

The Buckeye State saw a 208% increase in political robocalls last month, compared to a normal week, Versen said.

Robocalls that try to sell consumers products or services are illegal, unless the companies have consumers' written permission, says the Federal Trade Commission.

But some robocalls do not require this kind of authorization, like political calls, messages from charities or health care providers, debt-collection calls and informational calls (like school closings, flight cancellations, appointments), the FTC says.

Prerecorded or autodialed phone calls from political campaigns or groups are legal if they are made to landlines, even if the callers don’t have prior consent, says the Federal Communications Commission.

But the FCC says these calls and autodialed text messages are not allowed to be sent to cell phones, pagers or other mobile devices without consumers’ prior expressed consent.

Cell phone owners who receive these illegal calls should be cautious as they could be from scammers.

The FCC encourages consumers to talk to their phone companies about call-blocking tools and research mobile phone apps that block unwanted calls.

Consumers also should not answer phone calls from unknown numbers, Quilici said, and they should not call back numbers without doing some research first.

“If the caller claims to be Citibank, go to Citibank’s website or credit card and use the number there,” he said.

The FCC says consumers should immediately hang up if a recording asks them to hit a button or respond to a question.

Apple phones with the iOS 13 or later systems can stop getting calls from unknown callers. They do this by going to Settings, then Phone and then scroll down and tap Silence Unknown Callers. Calls from unknown numbers will be silenced and sent to voicemail, but still will appear in the recent calls list.

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