FBI investigates robocalls warning voters to 'stay home'

FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. Voters across the U.S. received anonymous robocalls in the days and weeks before Election Day urging them to stay safe and stay home  an ominous warning that election experts said could be an effort to scare voters into sitting out the election. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, a man uses a cell phone in New Orleans. Voters across the U.S. received anonymous robocalls in the days and weeks before Election Day urging them to stay safe and stay home an ominous warning that election experts said could be an effort to scare voters into sitting out the election. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Voters across the U.S. received anonymous robocalls in the days and weeks before Election Day urging them to “stay safe and stay home” — an ominous warning that election experts said could be an effort to scare voters into sitting out the election.

The FBI is investigating calls that seek to discourage people from voting, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told reporters Tuesday. Authorities wouldn't offer details.

The brief calls, which featured a computerized female voice, made no mention of the election. But given the lack of details, and the timing, the message was clear, according to Dan Doughty, a Kansas City resident who received the robocall Tuesday morning.

“It felt like voter suppression,” Doughty told The Associated Press. “It was even so vague that whoever did it could say it was about COVID.”

The automated calls were placed to residents in nearly 90 percent of U.S. area codes, according to an analysis by YouMail, a tech company that makes anti-robocall software. YouMail's findings were reported Tuesday in The Washington Post.

YouMail found that the calls began over the summer but increased dramatically in recent weeks. In October alone there were 10 million calls, according to Alex Quilici, YouMail’s chief executive. On Tuesday, they were reported in states including Iowa, Kansas, Florida, Nebraska and Missouri.

“This is just a test call.," the voice says in one version of the robocall. "Time to stay home. Stay safe and stay home.”

Whoever created the robocalls used sophisticated tactics, routing the calls in a way that masked their identity and location, Quilici said. And unlike most robocalls, the message didn't ask for personal information or urge respondents to take any particular action — suggesting confusion and fear may have been the goal.