By next year, nearly half of your phone calls will be from scammers

September 20, 2018

When your phone rings nowadays, do you approach it with caution—always checking caller ID before you say hello—only to find that it’s a con artist, anyway, with a local area code?

Unfortunately, things are about to get worse, not better: Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, an Arkansas-based company “ that empowers people to trust their phones again” by providing phone carriers and their customers with caller ID and call blocking technology.

After analyzing over 50 billion calls made to customers over the past 18 months, the ten-year-old firm projects an explosion of incoming spam calls, marking a massive leap from 3.7% of total calls in 2017 to more than 29% this year, to a projected 45% by early 2019.

“Year after year, the scam call epidemic bombards consumers at record-breaking levels, surpassing the previous year and scammers increasingly invade our privacy at new extremes,” Charles Morgan, the chief executive and head data scientist of First Orion, said in a blog post on September 12.

There are a number of techniques that scammers use to get people to pick up the phone, but the most popular method is known as “Neighborhood Spoofing,” which happens when a scammer disguises his or her phone number and displays it as a local number on a user’s caller ID. For example, a scammer may spoof their phone number to match the area code and 3-digit prefix of the person he or she is targeting and, ultimately, increase the likelihood of someone answering.

According to a September 19 report by the Washington Post, more than half of all complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission are about unwanted calls, totaling more than 200,000. The FCC says that according to 2016 estimates, Americans received about 2.4 billion unwanted, automated calls every month.

Call blocking apps can prevent known scammers from getting their calls in, but First Orion noted that these tools can be ineffective if fraudulent callers use numbers that aren’t already blacklisted.

To combat robo-calls and malicious caller ID spoofing, the FCC has allowed phone carriers to block calls that may be illegal, and has pursued enforcement action against scammers, issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.

And sometimes, they are victorious: Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported, the FCC issued a $120 million fine against a man from Florida who allegedly made nearly 100 million robo-calls offering people exclusive vacation deals.

Research contact: hamza.shaban@washpost.com

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