Robocalls hitting record numbers in Tennessee Valley

using cellphone

J.B. Brown says that his grandmother receives lots of robocalls on her telephone, some of which are clearly from scammers trying to get Social Security or other personal information.

"It's pretty ugly," said the Fort Oglethorpe man.

Robocalls, the automated calls people can receive on their cellphones and land lines, have exploded in the Chattanooga area in recent years, according to YouMail, a company that tracks such data and sells products blocking the calls.


(Through September 2018)Area code 423* Total robocalls: 127 million* Population affected: 1.3 million* Average calls per person: 99.3Area code 706* Total robocalls: 243 million* Population affected: 1.7 million* Average calls per person: 144 millionSource: YouMail

In area code 423, which includes Chattanooga, robocalls last year hit 128.6 million, and the numbers are on track through September to blow past last year's mark, YouMail figures show. For the first nine months, there were 127 million such calls in the area code.

The same is true for Northwest Georgia, where area code 706 garnered 246.2 million robocalls last year, according to YouMail. For the first nine months, the area code received 243 million such calls.

And, YouMail classifies many of those calls as scams.

For example, of the top 20 robocallers to the 423 area code in August, five were identified as scams involving auto warranties, health insurance or business or payday loans, according to YouMail.

The top robocaller came from a number identified by YouMail as "prison inmate."

Jim Winsett, who heads the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, said inmates can make such calls from jail using their phones and, more often than not, are trying to perpetuate a scam.

"They're sitting in there with nothing else to do," he said.

Winsett said the local BBB receives inquiries almost daily from people complaining about getting the robocalls.

Often, he said, they want to know how to get on the "do not call list" and stop receiving the activity. That cuts the number of calls people receive from legitimate telemarketers and robocallers.

"Do not call is supposed to take care of it," Winsett said. He said if telemarketers are still making calls to people on the list, they can get fined.

Winsett said the Do Not Call Registry accepts registrations from both cell phones and land lines. To register by telephone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). He said people must call from the phone number that they want to register. To register online (, people will have to respond to a confirmation email, Winsett said.

Another way people deal with robocalls is just not accepting those from numbers they don't know.

Elizabeth Allen of Atlanta, who was visiting the Tennessee Aquarium recently, said if she doesn't recognize the number, she doesn't answer.


The Do Not Call Registry accepts registrations from both cell phones and land lines. To register by telephone, call 1-888-382-1222.

At the same time, she said, she doesn't feel the need to opt into the "do not call list."

Some robocalls are legitimate, such as from phone companies, cable providers, banks, doctors or debt collectors. But, dishonest robocallers often will ignore the laws and will call anyway.

Companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer services that alert people that an incoming robocall may be from a scammer or spammer. In some cases, such services are free, but for a few dollars more per month, customers can obtain a more robust version that can block the robocalls.

AT&T spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski said the company has been working to prevent illegal robocalls from reaching its customers. AT&T estimates it has blocked more than 4 billion robocalls in its network, she said.

"We have worked to identify the sources of the calls, block them before they go through, and provide consumers with tools to block unwanted calls like AT&T Call Protect," Lewandowski said.

That service detects and blocks calls from likely fraudsters, according to the company.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.