How The New “Call Spammer” Spends Your Mobile Click-to-Call Budgets


ADOTAS – Mobile click-to-call ads are a great way for consumers to connect with businesses, and a new generation of call spammers agrees — sometimes generating hundreds of thousands of phone calls per day from your mobile advertising campaigns and then disappearing.  This new class of spammers capitalizes on the ubiquity of clickable phone numbers and a new class of “free call” widgets that enables anyone with an internet connection to make outbound phone calls.  Outside of the more benign “pocket dial” or “accidental call,” call spammers explain why click-to-call ads can receive as many as 76 percent junk calls. This is an expensive risk for mobile advertisers.

Meet The New Call Spammer

At our company, Marchex, our Call Analytics platform routes hundreds of millions of phone calls each year for advertisers of all shapes and sizes, and at 6:02 a.m. on Tuesday, May 8, the platform routed an inbound call from a phone number in the 360 area code it hadn’t seen before to a phone number in our inventory that was not assigned to an advertiser.  A flag was set in our early warning system.

By 6:04 a.m., the platform had already routed 150 phone calls from this number, some to live advertisers and others to unassigned phone numbers. Our early warning system sent messages to all of our call routers to block all inbound calls from this 360 phone number.  It’s a good thing, because by 7 p.m., this phone number attempted more than 130,000 phone calls to phone numbers used by our clients to track and analyze their marketing campaigns. Then, the caller from the 360 disappeared. (One of our carriers reached out to us mid-day to indicate this caller had called much of their client base.)

They Sell Political Data and Travel

In March, we noticed that one of our clients started receiving an unusual number of phone calls lasting 26 seconds each, spread out over several weeks, all coming from Google Mobile campaigns. Upon analyzing these calls, we were able to identify them as automated anti-government messages seemingly targeted to influence this year’s elections.

Some of these election-related messages also serve as lead generators for call centers. During a cab ride to a client meeting last Friday with Ziad Ismail, Head of Product at Marchex, Ziad received a political survey on his mobile phone asking him a couple of questions about the upcoming presidential election and promising a heavily discounted travel deal for completing it.

Ziad went through the survey and was connected to a call center selling travel. Enter the new spammer — ignoring do-not-call lists, selling survey data and earning commission off of travel.

Protecting Your Call Campaigns

As with click campaigns, there are straightforward measurement and filtering solutions designed to both block spammers from reaching your place of business (or call center) to better identify the valid calls generated from your mobile marketing campaigns.

1. Ensure you have clean CTNs (call tracking numbers). Work with a call tracking or analytics vendor that is actively updating its spam lists. For example, Marchex has blocked more than 100,000 phone calls in a day (such as on May 8) due to spam activity.

2. Use an IVR (interactive voice response) to qualify callers. A simple playfile announcing your business name and offering callers the option to “select ‘one’ for sales or ‘two’ for service” is a good start — and standard with a call tracking solution.

3. Tune Your Campaigns. Leveraging data from your call records, and using a metric like “cost per qualified call” allows you to effectively optimize your mobile advertising spends.

Best of luck with your click-to-call campaigns and if you have any stories to share on call spammers, we’d love to hear them.


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