Americans have seen a steady increase in spam calls for years. In 2019, Americans received 61.4 billion spam calls — a 28% increase from 2018. In 2020, though, spam calls have actually started to decrease. As countries worldwide have mandated COVID-19 shutdowns, many robocall scam operations have stopped doing business as usual. The result? United States consumers have experienced a 30-35% decrease in total spam call volume since March 23, 2020. What does it all mean?
It means the scams have slowed down. It also means that they’re more of a threat than ever.
Scammers have shifted from placing more calls to placing smarter calls to cash in on coronavirus scams. And unfortunately, it’s working.
“Nearly 52,500 Americans have already filed complaints this year with the Federal Trade Commission over fraud related to Covid-19, reporting losses totaling over $38.6 million. Of those submitting complaints through May 21, about 45% reported falling victim to fraudsters, losing about $470 on average,” – CNBC
In this post, we’ll cover current scam trends, what consumers should look out for, how consumers can protect themselves, and how Robokiller can help.
Yes, scam calls have decreased by 30% since March 23, 2020. No, they have not stopped altogether. Not even close. But why the sudden shift, and what’s changed?
The observed decrease in Robokiller’s global scammer database aligns with the timing of quarantine and shelter-in-place orders both in the United States and other major international regions including the UK and India. Due to shelter-in-place, many scammers have lost access to the technology used to deploy their scams. With call centers shuttered, scammers can no longer access the caller ID spoofing and auto dialing technology they typically use to place thousands of phone calls per day.
Coronavirus phone scam calls took the place of major phone scams such as social security and IRS scams that typically drive the large volume of monthly robocalls U.S. consumers experience each month. These types of scams have increased by more than 100% during COVID-19, indicating that scammers are changing their scam tactics to be more relevant to the present economic environment in the United States.
Robokiller observed a >100% decrease in daily call volume of the social security phone scam. In a normal month, this scam accounts for over 30% of the total phone scams in our database. During COVID-19, volume decreased to about 1/8 of its normal average.
While scam calls may be less frequent, though – they’re more of a threat than ever. Scammers are getting more savvy, and they’re focusing their limited resources on getting the most bang for their buck by exploiting peoples’ fears.
As quarantine heightened in late March, Robokiller saw a reduction in scams such as IRS, credit card, and tech support scams, and an increase in COVID-19 robocall and text scams posing as hard-to-find PPE and mask suppliers. The PPE robocall scams enticed people to purchase hard-to-find PPE supplies over the phone in an attempt to steal credit card info by pressing 1 to speak to a representative to make a purchase over the phone.
And, unfortunately, it’s working. On May 18, the FTC reported that Americans have lost $13.4M to coronavirus fraud. Over Memorial Day weekend, that number climbed to a staggering $39 Million in losses! The increase in these types of scams indicates that scammers hope to capitalize on a state of panic and concern. And, not only have scammers changed their tactics, they’re also changing the way they reach you...
With fewer people answering their phones, scammers are now deploying more text scams. These scams especially play on the fears of consumers and their inability to protect themselves from the coronavirus. As an example, Robokiller has identified spam texts warning people of possible COVID-19 exposure offering fake websites to buy masks and hand sanitizer.
The FCC has also reported a significant rise in text scams. These scams use a clickable link to falsely advertise a cure or offer a test for the coronavirus. They may even impersonate government agencies. Clicking on these texted links can be dangerous.
Text scammers are also playing on financial insecurities. One scam looks like it’s from the IRS and asks recipients to register their information in order to receive their stimulus payment. The link goes to an IRS lookalike website, where victims are asked for their identifying information — like social security number and date of birth. It then asks for a credit or debit card for identity verification.
The worst part? Concerned citizens don’t know which COVID-19 call and text updates are real and which are fake. Even though some government agencies recommend consumers answer their phones for accurate coronavirus updates, Americans are hesitant to put themselves at risk.
What about coronavirus contact tracing alerts? You’ve probably been hearing a lot about contact tracing lately. Those alerts are real, right? The answer: Sometimes. Contact tracing is “the process of identifying people who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, instructing them to quarantine and monitoring their symptoms daily,” per the FTC. People who are possibly exposed to someone with coronavirus may receive a text message from the health department, alerting them of an upcoming phone call. The contact tracer does not ask for personal information like social security number, but they may offer to send text message updates.
Among these legitimate text programs, Robokiller has also registered a large spike in spam reporting for coronavirus contact tracing texts. Scammers are pretending to be contact tracers, using text messages to inform recipients that they recently came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
How are these scam messages different from legitimate contact tracing text messages? In scam texts, scammers will ask for money or information like social security number, bank account, or credit card number. While it is true Robokiller did identify and block dangerous contact tracing scams, some of the suspected scam texts reported to Robokiller were actually legitimate notifications of coronavirus exposure. This lack of trust and inability to discern legitimate from scam is dangerous for consumers in a time where staying informed is critical. It can even lead to potentially life-threatening outcomes.
As countries begin to reopen and people return to work, scammers will get back to the business of scamming. American consumers should expect spam calls to return to their normal (if not higher) levels of spam calls. That’s over 5 billion spam calls per month.
What’s a conscientious consumer to do? First, be wary of calls and texts from unknown numbers. Always avoid answering suspicious calls and texts when possible. If you do answer a spam call, intentionally or not, do not engage by pressing one, replying STOP, or asking to be removed from lists. This can encourage the scammer, because it lets them know that they have reached an actual person. And this may seem obvious, but never give personal or financial information over the phone.
Another step to take, although it won’t stop illegal scam texts and calls, is to register for the Do Not Call list. You can also report suspicious calls and texts to the FCC and your carrier by forwarding calls or texts to *7726.
Want to stop scam calls and texts from ever reaching your phone — coronavirus times or not? Download a scam blocker app like Robokiller.
Robokiller goes beyond the Caller ID to stop spam calls, using AI and machine learning to get to the root of the problem. Its patented audio fingerprinting algorithm can quickly identify and eliminate the scam behind the robocall, protecting customers nationwide in milliseconds.
It doesn’t stop there. Robokiller intercepts spam calls with Answer Bots, robots that make the spammer think they are talking to a human and giving customers the last laugh. In 2019 alone, Robokiller’s Answer Bots intercepted 127,738,310 calls, wasting 93,703,304 minutes of spammers’ time.