Officials investigate robocall scams warning voters to stay away from polls

Suspicious political robocalls have been placed to 280 of the country's 317 area codes since this summer, including to residents in Ohio. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI

Nov. 3 (UPI) — Voters across the country are estimated to have received an estimated 10 million automated spam calls in the last few days telling them to “stay safe and stay home,” spurring investigations in multiple states and at the federal level.

According to data prepared by YouMail, a tech company that offers a robocall-blocking app, and reported by the Washington Post, suspicious political robocalls have been placed to 280 of the country’s 317 area codes since this summer — and major telecom carriers believe the calls are foreign in origin.

A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told the Washington Post the FBI is investigating the robocalls, and that prior elections have seen similar tactics deployed.

Robocalling has long been a favored tool of scammers, and robocallers use sophisticated tactics to reach audiences across different devices and services, making it difficult to determine the origin of the calls and texts.

“If you wanted to cause havoc in America for the elections, one way to do it is clearly robocalling,” said Alex Quilici, YouMail’s chief executive. “This whole thing is exposing [that] it can be very difficult to react quickly to a large calling volume campaign.”

Michigan’s attorney general and secretary of state issued warnings to voters Tuesday after receiving reports of calls to Flint residents telling them that because of long lines, they should vote Wednesday.

“We received reports that an unknown party is purposefully spreading misinformation via robocalls in Flint in an attempt to confuse voters there, and I want to ensure everyone who plans to vote in person understands they must do so — or be in line to do so — by 8 p.m. today,” Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson said in a statement.

“Lines in the area and across the state are minimal and moving quickly, and Michigan voters can feel confident that leaders across state and local government are vigilant against these kinds of attacks on their voting rights and attempts at voter suppression, and we will be working quickly all day to stamp out any misinformation aimed at preventing people from exercising their right to vote.”

Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, also said she had received reports that Dearborn residents were receiving text messages with false claims about ballot sensor issues.

New York voters have also reported robocalls encouraging them to say home, according to attorney general Letitia James, who has encouraged the public to report suspicious calls — as well as voting problems or interference at the polls — to her office.

“Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy,” James said. “Attempts to hinder voters from exercising their right to cast their ballots are disheartening, disturbing, and wrong. What’s more is that it is illegal, and it will not be tolerated.

“Every voter must be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote without being harassed, coerced, or intimidated. Our nation has a legacy of free and fair elections, and this election will be no different. Voters should rest assured that voting is safe and secure, and they should exercise their fundamental right to vote in confidence.

“We, along with state leaders across the nation, are working hard to protecting your right to vote, and anyone who tries to hinder that right will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”


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