If recent numbers are any indication, ordinary Americans are already being reached by spam and scam calls that range in the billions. And with the advent of social isolation due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, more and more vulnerable citizens are falling prey to the unseemly tactics employed by these bad actors.
A recent study is sounding the alarm on just how bad robocalls have become. Even as efforts to rein them in abound around the country at every level – from state and local government to the FTC and FCC, including commissioner Ajit Pai.
In what follows we give a full report on the study, making connections with several other recent studies. We’re also going to zoom in on how the Coronavirus Pandemic is affecting the current numbers, plus how scammers are profiting off of the crisis.
Over Half of All Calls are Spam
The recent study, conducted by Robo Shield – a robocall blocking app – discovered that 54% of weekly calls received are unwanted. The study is based on a survey conducted by the company in which they interviewed 1,005 people to gauge the state of robocalls in the US in 2020. The study was recently updated in April 2020.
Many variations were uncovered by the recent study – such as by age group or by types of scams – but one thing remained surprisingly consistent – the hatred people have for the calls. 90.1% of those surveyed said they don’t answer if they think a call is a spam or scam one.
According to a study we reported on in December, Americans received 54.6 billion spam calls in 2019. That number has been steadily growing year after year, despite all efforts mitigate and root out the bad actors in the industry. As such, there could well be many more billions this year.
However, let’s assume there will be exactly 54.6 billion calls in 2020. This means there have already been at least 13.5 billion calls this year, 4.5 billion of which were only in March. If you combine that with an increased answer rate since people have been isolated in their homes, the possible impact of scammers on vulnerable people is daunting.
Elderly People Disproportionately at Risk
The current study also highlights a worrying fact most people always knew to be true: elderly people are not only more vulnerable to scammers, but they are also disproportionately targeted and affected by these calls.
The results could not be clearer: people over the age of 50 received an average of 13 spam calls per month and approximately 80 minutes per week on the phone. For comparison, people in their 20s got 11 unwanted calls per month on average and spent approximately 72 minutes per week on the phone.
The Coronavirus Scam Risks
The prospect of so many scam calls targeted at vulnerable communities is especially daunting when you consider the current Coronavirus Pandemic. Many scam callers have already jumped at the chance of a new crisis they can profit off of.
Just last month reports were circulating of scam callers in the Omaha area defrauding people by telling them they’ve been diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus. Unfortunately, this is only the most recent disturbing tactic employed by scammers.
Most Scammers Are Impersonating Government Agencies
The study also looked at the types of scam calls people are receiving. Unsurprisingly, the most common type of scam was from people claiming to represent government agencies. Fake IRS representatives often call vulnerable people and ask for personal information like their social security number.
The IRS and other government agencies have reached out to ask people not to trust these bad actors and never offer their personal info over the phone.
Other common unwanted calls include (in order by popularity): car insurance scams, spoofed calls, fake loans, fake lottery winnings, fake technical support representatives, fake charities requesting donations, fake health services requesting insurance information, fake bank representatives, and many others.
What’s even more worrying, the study uncovered an average of 7.3% of people fall for scams. A staggering 34.2% of people reported they knew someone who did so.
A Question of Trust
Even as the answer rate has gone up with everyone stuck in their homes during the Coronavirus Crisis, most people are still very skeptical of phone calls.
The study cites robocalls as the main reason people are starting to avoid answering the phone altogether and developing anxiety over even talking on the phone.
Back in December, we recounted that just 41% of all calls in 2019 were picked up, according to a HIYA Report. The current study seems to be pointing in the same direction, with 3 in 4 people saying they answer the phone less than they did five years back.
The proliferation of scams is also driving the older population towards texting. While 59.9% of people in their twenties predictably favor texting, the surprise lies with the over 50 group. Despite a 4% rise in phone call preference (from 16.2% for people in their 20s to 20.1% for people in their 50s), elderly people still prefer texting.
39.1% of respondents over the age of 50 said they’d rather text. 25.7% said they prefer in-person communication.
In an interesting turn of events, nobody likes email – this channel of communication consistently scored last across all groups – 20s, 30s, 40s, and over 50s.
Texting Is the Future?
The results are in. People don’t like cold calls at all – and they would prefer cold texts. It would’ve been interesting to see the study further break down texts by platform.
We know from our data that most people today overwhelmingly favor texting over apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
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