Australians have found themselves on the receiving end of robocalls aimed at discouraging American voters from visiting the polls on election day.
Experts who track the telecom industry observed that in the days leading up to the election voters across the US received an estimated 10 million automated spam calls telling them to “stay safe and stay home”—prompting the FBI and the New York Attorney-General to investigate.
But dozens of Australians also received similar calls on their mobile phones. When they answered, a synthetic female voice said: "Hello. This is just a test call. Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home."
Those who received the calls claimed that they appeared to be coming from local numbers.
"I've had four or five of these calls, which I initially assumed was something to do with a COVID-19 message," a man from Perth told the ABC. "Coming up as a local mobile number, I wasn't expecting something linked to the US election. I just blocked the number and moved on."
The origins of the calls remains unclear, but it seems to be part of a devious attempt to dissuade Americans from casting their vote in the election between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden. And in recent months, efforts to minimise voter turnout have typically come from pro-Trump Republican supporters.
Voters in a number of key states and counties across the US received similar messages. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Tuesday that the state had received reports of “multiple robocalls” in Flint, a city that usually votes for the Democrats, which told voters that they should cast their ballots on Wednesday (when voting is over) due to long lines.
Officials in the battleground state of Iowa reported similar robocalls telling residents to “stay home, stay safe and don’t vote.” A spokesperson for the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office said in an email to VICE News that officials had “received information about a call and forwarded that information to the FBI and State Fusion Center.”
The “stay home and stay safe” robocall messages also apparently reached voters in Nebraska, prompting Secretary of State Robert Evnen to assure voters that polling places were open, and they would be kept safe.
So prolific was the robocall campaign that, by Tuesday, messages urging people to avoid polling stations had risen to number five on the list of top spam calls across the US, according to the Washington Post. Why such messages are being directed at unwitting Australians on the other side of the world, however, remains a mystery.
"The US elections have got nothing to do with me," a man from Brisbane told the ABC. "I can't see why they're targeting Australians who have nothing to do with the US voting system."
"I keep getting robocalls telling me to 'stay safe and stay home' in an electronic American accent," said another woman from Brisbane. "I've never lived in the US. I used to get them from this number before I blocked it."
Follow Gavin on Twitter