Last year was certainly the year of the phone scam, as there were a record 10.2 billion reported phone calls made through auto-dialing software to US citizens alone. Many of these calls were scams that encompassed everything from government agency scams to lottery winnings, and typically went after their victims’ personal identifiable information, money, or both.
Hiya, a company that provides caller ID service as well as call-blocking apps, released its annual report on the types of phone calls that scammers used to target the public. The Robocall Radar: End of Year Report 2016 ranks the type of automatic phone calls in order of prevalence.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry Data Book for Fiscal Year 2016, the Do Not Call Registry contained just over 226 million actively registered phone numbers, up from the 223 million at the end of FY 2015. In addition, the number of consumer complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls received increased from just under 3.6 million during FY 2015 to over 5.3 million during FY 2016.
1. Telemarketer Scams – Telemarketing calls are annoying, but they aren’t all scams. However, telemarketing calls that were actually attempts at stealing money and data were the top form of phone scam last year.
2. Spoofing – Again, spoofing a phone number is not proof that the call was a scam, but Hiya’s data shows that spoofed calls are almost overwhelmingly attached to illegal activity. After all, what would the purpose be in showing a different name, city, or phone number on your phone’s screen if the caller was genuine?
3. Kidnap Scams – It’s horrifying that the third place spot is held by kidnapping or extortion scams, but these occur when the scammers robocall random phone numbers, then wait for a caller to pick up. Once the potential victim answers, the caller demands a ransom payment for a friend or relative that they have supposedly kidnapped.
4. IRS Scams – It’s no surprise that this type of scam is in the top five. After all, if you’re a living, breathing American, you probably had to file a tax return last year. It takes no effort at all to lie to you, claiming that you failed to pay the appropriate amount and that you must make immediate payment in order to avoid going to jail.
5. Debt Collector Scams – Again, these are not from genuine collections agencies, but scammers who dial random numbers. Why does it work? Because just as in the IRS scams, most Americans carry some kind of household debt. By convincing you that you’ve failed to make a payment, scammers can steal your personal identifiable information and coerce you into giving them a payment over the phone.
The rest of the top ten scams include surveys, vacation and travel offers, lottery or contest winnings of some kind, the famous tech support scam, and political scams. That’s not to say there aren’t other types—one thing the security industry has learned is that criminals come up with new ways to steal from you every day—but these are the ones that continue to be the most common.
The real question, though, is why? If these scams continue to make headlines, why are they still so effective? The numbers from Hiya don’t prove how often victims fall for these scams, only how often these types of tactics are used, but that does lend itself to a correlation between the number of calls and their effectiveness. In most of these scams, there’s an emotional tie-in: your grandson has been kidnapped, you’re going to jail for failure to pay your taxes, you’ve just won millions in the lottery, you can finally take your spouse on a dream vacation. This emotional connection grabs your attention and prevents you from really processing the facts behind what you’re hearing. In order to avoid becoming a victim of a phone scam or any other fraud attempt, it’s vital that consumers pause and think about the scenario before responding.
As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.