“Scam likely.” If you get that message when a call comes in from a number you don’t recognize, you probably don’t answer and immediately register the number in your contacts as “Block caller.” If it seems like it’s happening more and more, it’s because it is: In 2020, 50 billion (with a “b”) spam calls were made to Americans, and 60% of those calls were fraudulent. US consumers are fed up, and demand regulators, network operators, as well as the impersonated businesses take on this increasingly annoying and potentially dangerous problem.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred these bad actors on, and scam calls increased by 200%, compared to 2019. The increase in calls has enabled scammers to go ham on the unsuspecting, as they steal money and damage trust. New data from Hiya revealed that 75% of Americans were targeted by scammers in 2020 and millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) were the most targeted demographic group (79%).
While it’s become rote for some to simply not answer, forward to voicemail or block, information revealed in the survey showed that phone scams have real consequences, with more than 7% of people losing more than $500 as a result of scam calls in 2020. Nearly 40% of all respondents reported losing money to phone scams last year, with an average of $182 per victim.
SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
With so many businesses shuttered or operating reduced hours or conducting business online only, there is a strong reliance on voice calls, more now than ever, to stay connected. Americans were behind much of the world in terms of texting (making actual calls much longer than their global counterparts), but when they went from nearly all phone calls to text, it seemed as though text was the go to option for everything from conducting business to asking for a divorce (see: Russell Brand and Katy Perry).
Now, voice traffic is on the rise, increasing 184% year-on-year. More than 72% of US workers reliant on their phones increased their use of voice in the past 12 months. While some of this can be credited to necessity borne of “operating in a contactless society,” it emerged that consumers are returning to voice calls “over all other communication channels for personal and professional interactions, beating out email, text, instant messaging and voice calls.”
Hiya commissioned Censuswide to conduct the survey of 2,000 consumers and 300 business professionals who revealed the daily experiences of repeated unwanted calls.
It can be difficult to initially identify a spam call (if your provider isn’t sending “Scam likely” in place of a name for incoming calls). The Hiya report noted: “One of the common tactics scammers use is to spoof a legitimate business’ phone number and exploit their customers. Nearly half of the US consumers surveyed (44%) are regularly targeted by these spoof calls, with larger businesses typically targeted more than SMEs. This is having negative consequences on businesses, too, with 48% of consumer respondents reporting they are suspicious of subsequent calls coming from a business that has been spoofed.”
However, Americans are reporting (44%) that they are regularly missing important calls “primarily because people don’t answer unidentified calls.” Further, 94% of unidentified calls went unanswered in 2020. According to 85% of survey respondents indicated concerns that unidentified calls “might be fraudulent.” Hiya noted that “what’s even more concerning is that 36% of respondents believe company cash flow has taken a hit by the reduced number of customers answering their phones.”
Nearly half of all Americans surveyed (48%) want to see regulators such as the FCC address the issue of spam calling and phone fraud. Around 42% of people want their mobile network operator to put an end to the practices, while 37% of consumers want the businesses who are being falsely impersonated by scammers to address the problem.
So while texting has made conducting business more efficient (allowing the recipient to view and respond when they’re best able) and much less intimidating, the pandemic’s edict of social distancing re-introduced the need for voice calls to connect. Unfortunately, because of the invasion of the scam calls, people/customers are much more reluctant to pick up the phone when they get a call from a number they don’t recognize.
“The unprecedented events of the past 12 months mean the voice call has become an even more essential connection point for both businesses and the general public,” said Hiya CEO Alex Algard in the report. “Businesses are using the voice call more than ever to reach customers and the public are picking up the phone to connect with friends, family and colleagues. At the same time, this crucial communication tool is being hijacked by hackers and scammers, exploiting our need to feel connected and informed. Everyone is negatively impacted by this surge of scam calls and it is time for network operators, regulators, and businesses to tackle this issue before it escalates further.”