Phone scams cost Americans $8.6 billion last year – here’s how to protect yourself

Phone Scams

Truecaller, which bills itself as the world’s largest verified mobile phone community, on Wednesday released the results of a new survey that helps shed light on how serious a problem phone scams are in the United States. According to the company’s findings, approximately 17.6 million Americans were scammed out of an estimated $8.6 billion in 2013 alone, with 7% of respondents having lost an average of $488.80 each due to scam calls.

“$8.6 billion lost per year through U.S. phone fraud is simply a staggering number and shows the need for greater vigilance among Americans when it comes to protecting themselves from scam artists operating over the phone,” Truecaller CEO Alan Mamedi is quoted in a press release as having stated. “We think the actual dollar number lost may be even higher due to factors like unreported fraud and unchecked phone bills even in instances when owners received a spam call.”

Nearly half of those polled who said they were victims of a phone scam noted that they received scam calls on a cell phone, while 36% said the calls came through on a home phone. To avoid getting scammed, 64% of respondents said they never answer calls from unknown numbers and 31% said they check unknown numbers online before answering a call.

Truecaller also noted that its own free app for Android, iOS and other platforms can help protect people from scams by automatically blocking known scammers and by providing an integrated phone number lookup service.

The company’s full press release follows below for those interested in more details, and you’ll also find an interesting infographic beneath the release.

17.6M Americans Lost an Estimated $8.6 Billion in Phone Fraud Over the Past Year, According to New Survey from Truecaller

New consumer poll shows that approximately 7 percent of American adults have lost money in a phone scam in the past 12 months with an average amount lost of $488.80 per victim

STOCKHOLM & NEW YORK – August 27, 2014 - Truecaller, the world’s largest verified mobile phone community, today announced findings from its first study on the impact of phone scams on U.S. adults. Two online surveys were conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Truecaller in 2014, with questions covering the frequency of fraud and suspected fraud calls, the amount of money lost, and steps Americans are taking to protect themselves.

Phone scams cost Americans billions every year

According to one survey, approximately 17.6 million Americans were victims of a phone scam in the past 12 months and lost an average of $488.80. This accounts for a massive scam that costs Americans approximately $8.6 billion annually, and breaks down to an average of $35.60 for each U.S. adult.*

The survey also showed Americans had a greater chance of being targeted on a mobile phone than on a home phone or landline. Of those who lost money in a phone scam, nearly half (49 percent) reported losing money via a mobile phone scam compared to 36 percent who reported losing money on a home phone/landline. (Note: 29 percent were not sure what type of phone they lost money on). Overall, men were far more likely to lose money in a phone scam, with victims being 71 percent male and 29 percent female.

“$8.6 billion lost per year through U.S. phone fraud is simply a staggering number and shows the need for greater vigilance among Americans when it comes to protecting themselves from scam artists operating over the phone,” Truecaller CEO Alan Mamedi said. “We think the actual dollar number lost may be even higher due to factors like unreported fraud and unchecked phone bills even in instances when owners received a spam call.”

Findings show Americans aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from mobile fraud

Alongside the survey on how much phone scams cost Americans annually, a separate survey looked at how fraud affects smartphone owners. Despite the potential to be targeted by fraudsters, many smartphone owners reported that they don’t take any precautions to protect themselves from phone scams, indicating scammers have a huge potential population of victims.

When asked how they protect themselves against phone scams, smartphone owners answered as follows:

  • 64 percent never answer a call from an unknown number
  • 31 percent search online for suspicious numbers before returning calls
  • 20 percent do nothing
  • 16 percent use a caller ID app (different from what their smartphone came with)
  • 4 percent do something else

The lack of precautions from many smartphone owners leaves them susceptible to popular types of phone scams, which seem to be increasing at an alarming rate.  Suspicious calls can include instances where scammers pretend to be IRS agents or debt collectors, callers who spoof your own phone number calling you, and those who initiate fraud via “one-ring scams,” where consumers are tricked into dialing numbers that automatically start billing them for every minute they remain on the phone.

Of smartphone owners who received calls from scammers or suspicious or unknown numbers in the past 12 months:

  • 33 percent never checked their phone bill
  • 21 rarely checked their phone bill
  • 20 percent sometimes checked their phone bill
  • 16 percent always checked their phone bill
  • 10 percent often checked their phone bill

The study also showed that of those who had checked their phone bills, 37 percent found fraudulent charges. A percentage of fraud so high indicates that a great deal of those who hadn’t checked their bills may also have been victims and simply were not aware.

“We’re seeing that a lot of smartphone owners are not taking some very essential steps to avoid becoming a victim. This amounts to huge cost in time and money if they do get scammed and need to contest charges, or worse, handle a case of identity theft,” Mamedi continued. “Scam artists are only getting smarter about how to conceal their identity and consumers will need better and easier ways to prevent scams.”

Men have a higher probability of being targeted by scammers and tend to be more cautious about falling victim to one

According to the second survey, male smartphone owners indicated a higher average of unknown or suspicious calls per year, 21.9 calls versus 17.6 calls for women. By many metrics, men took more precautions to prevent scams on smartphones than women. When asked about precautions they took to protect themselves from fraud, the survey showed the following:

  • Men who received calls from unknown callers/spammers on a smartphone in the past 12 months more likely than women to always or often check their phone bill after a suspicious call (32 percent vs. 21 percent)
  • Women who have received calls from unknown callers/spammers on a smartphone in the past 12 months are more likely than men to never check their phone bill after receiving one of these calls (37 percent vs. 29 percent)

Survey Methodology

Two surveys were conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Truecaller via its Quick Query omnibus product. The first one was conducted June 9 and 11, 2014 among 2,059 adults aged 18 and older. The next was conducted from July 18-22, 2014 among 2,040 adults ages 18 and older. These online surveys are not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Truecaller_Infographic

Source:
Truecaller
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