Limit cellphones in school (copy)

The state Department of Consumer Affairs says South Carolinians have been scammed out of at least $750,000 this year, mostly from robocall scams. File/Staff

South Carolinians have been scammed out of more than $750,000 so far this year, and an onslaught of robocalls ringing across the state is one of the main reasons why.

The state Department of Consumer Affairs says its tally of scams in the Palmetto State is almost certainly lower than reality, since it only counts the thefts residents call in.

But the roughly 760 reports the department received in the first half of the year demonstrate that there’s real money attached to the tens of millions of calls that South Carolinians receive each month.

"It’s safe to assume this is a drop in the bucket," said department spokeswoman Juliana Harris.

Automated calling and the ability to spoof phone numbers has won the attention of scammers and, increasingly, regulators who have grown concerned about its extent.

The California startup YouMail, which tracks robocalls, says that nearly 50 million such calls dialed South Carolina numbers in June alone.

The Midlands bore the brunt, with 21 million calls to phone numbers in the 803 area code, according to YouMail. The 843 area code along the coast followed close behind, with 18 million calls. In both areas, the number has inched up steadily this year.

On the coast, that’s close to 14 calls per person in a month — a steady barrage of imposters, fake sweepstakes and debt collectors. They’re often targeted to their recipients, with phone numbers spoofed to seem familiar.

Last month, for instance, scammers spoofed the number of a pharmacy in Beaufort to peddle financial products, a scam that ripped through the Lowcountry and left Walgreen’s employees to field hundreds of calls.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering steps to crack down on robocalls, seeking to let telecom providers block them before their customers’ phones ring. The Department of Consumer Affairs said this month it supports the idea.

"While these steps will not eliminate robocalls entirely, the rule increases consumer protection by removing the popular avenues these scam artists tread and hopefully will lower consumer dollars to scam artists employing robocalls," department administrator Carri Grube Lybarker wrote to the FCC.

Lybarker (copy)

Carri Grube Lybarker is the administrator of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Provided/SCDCA

Bus charter

The electric bus company Proterra wants to build vehicles closer to its customers — so it’s going to start making them in California.

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Proterra, which has deep ties to South Carolina, is a big player in the small-but-growing market of selling electric buses. The company says it’s sold more than 400 buses across the country.

But the bulk of its orders have come from the West Coast, particularly in California. That's why it decided to expand its manufacturing operations with a new factory near Los Angeles.

Until last week, all of the company's buses were being built in Greenville, where Proterra was based until it moved to Silicon Valley in 2015. Greenville is still home to a bus factory and some administrative offices.

The second facility will cut Proterra's shipping costs, but it also moves the company's center of gravity further west. Its battery manufacturing factory is also in California.

"As car culture wanes and more communities embrace 21st century, multi-modal transit, California has a unique opportunity to lead the country in this market transition," Proterra CEO Ryan Popple said in a statement.

The new factory is expected to employ 60 people by the end of the year, and it'll have the capacity to build 400 buses annually.


A Proterra Catalyst. Provided/Proterra

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.

Thad Moore is a reporter on The Post and Courier’s Watchdog and Public Service team, a native of Columbia and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. His career at the newspaper started on the business desk in 2016.