No thank you for calling: the rise and rise of phone scammers

Last year, fraudsters made 85 billion calls to weary phone owners all over the world. Will the problem ever go away? Can app makers help?

Adrian Abramovich liked to make phone calls. In three months he made almost 100 million of them. You’ve probably guessed that Abramovich wasn’t just being friendly, with a desire to chat with 100 million people. Actually, he was one of the US’s most notorious ‘robocallers’. His aim was to sell vacation deals, and his strategy was to place millions of calls to unwitting recipients across the US.

This annoyed people. So much so that the US Federal Communications Commission investigated. In 2018, the FCC fined Abramovich $120 million. It’s still the biggest fine ever handed out to a robocaller. But no one believes it will stop the scammers. Not in the short term. There are too many of them out there, and they are making too much money.

According to cloud-based telco services company YouMail, American citizens alone received a record-breaking 5.7 billion robocalls in October. That’s seven percent more than the previous all-time high of 5.2 billion robocalls in March 2019.

Obviously, this is not just a US problem. Industry estimates suggest scammers placed 85 billion calls worldwide in 2018 – equal to 17 for every mobile subscriber globally.

So how did this happen? It goes back to the switch from analog to digital telco systems. With that change, the cost of calls shrank to virtually nothing. Scammers’ systems could just keep calling and calling for almost no outlay. Yes, they could do the same with email (and they did), but the phone is a much more effective channel. Everyone knows that people are far more likely to answer a call than open an email message.

The scams continue to become more devious. Fraudsters can use VoIP software to mimic local phone numbers, for example. They can display the same area code as the recipient’s number to make it appear as if they are a nearby business or friend.

The nature of fraud is always changing and with a huge variety. Criminals call pretending to be government officials such as tax collectors, law enforcement or immigration control. A recent natural disaster? Swindlers exploit the situation and pretend to be from a charity. Scammers leave a message about the delivery and when the recipient rings back, the call goes to a premium rate or international number.

According to YouMail, the top five current scams relate to:

  • Healthcare
  • Interest Rates
  • Student Loans
  • Social Security
  • Warranties

What’s the solution? Well, consumers can simply be more vigilant. They can avoid answering calls from unfamiliar numbers and certainly never give out private or payment details over the phone. Some schemes let people opt-out of all uninvited calls completely – even those from legitimate marketers. In the US, for example, the FTC has launched the National Do Not Call Registry. People can register to stop any telemarketer from calling in its entirety.

With a blacklist, an entity (could be government or mobile carrier or specialist app maker) will compile a list of every phone number found to be illegitimate. It will then block any calls from these numbers going to any consumer that signs up to its service. Whitelisting is a more drastic measure. It blocks everyone who is not added to the phone’s contact list. That includes even legitimate callers like a school or hospital.

A valid question: Will most people actually do this? Surely there are easier and better ways.

Apps might be the answer, offering consumers the features they need. Some apps are already providing the feature; sometimes for free, sometimes for a small monthly subscription. Some of them team up with mobile operators and handset makers to bundle call blocking features into wider subscriptions.

However, subscriptions and bundles from mobile operators might not be available in your country, or if it’s expensive, an app will do the trick. Perhaps you are one of those people with an existing app like this, or maybe with the idea of an app to cover this world-wide need.

This brings us to Calldorado’s Caller SDK.

Across the app ecosystem, there are many developers offering call-related products. If you are one of them, you could improve the functionality of your app by integrating the Caller SDK. The best part? You’ll improve your user engagement too!

The Caller SDK presents your app to users whenever they make, receive or miss a phone call. Your app will display all this call information along with the convenient app features, prompting people to act on and use your app. The information is relatable and useful for your users, and we all know a happy user is one of the key factors of ensuring high LTV.

So, (for example) call-blocking apps, you can now make it even easier for your users to delete or approve a number immediately after the end of the call. While it’s also easy to customize it yourself, there are even ready-made native SDK templates for numerous categories. The team is ready to help you integrate.

It’s time to get in touch with Calldorado!

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