Scam attacks are on the rise, but can they be fully stopped or prevented?

The Covid pandemic has accelerated not only digital adoption but also the scale and spread of scams. Every month, over 4 billion scam calls are made globally, with 23% of Americans reporting that they've lost money due to such calls in 2021 alone.

At Mobile World Congress, Zhang Yi, Senior Solution Architect at ANT Group, explained the 4-step process ANT Group uses to try and protect users from scams. The first step is to make users aware of the problems before scams are then detected, awakened, and reported. This process helps the company to identify vulnerable people and helps them to avoid succumbing to scams.

“If we can prevent scams before they happen, that is ideal,” Yi explains. “We do this via various awareness initiatives, such as our range of games, quizzes, and stories designed to raise awareness of scams we might be exposed to.”

The company also deploys sophisticated, graph-based algorithms to detect scams, with each user, device, and stakeholder a node in the graph to allow the company to obtain a holistic risk management process. The deep learning system then evolves to understand whether a transaction is good or bad. Experts augment the system to help plug any gaps.

The final step allows users to report any issues to the company, with the company then able to compile evidence to respond accordingly, whether that is to reimburse the user, ban or block the culprit, or generally to improve the system so that it becomes smarter for the experience. Yi was part of a panel at MWC discussing the rise of scam attacks around the world and the efforts underway to tackle the threat.

A growing threat

Fellow panelist George Cray, Senior Vice President at iconectiv, highlighted the growth in spoof calling and cited statistics revealing that 85 billion robocalls happen globally. He reveals that many consumers are stopping answering their telephone entirely as they no longer trust the veracity of the people calling them.

Glyn Povah, Head of Global Product Development, Digital Identity at Telefonica, confirmed this trend, as while there is generally a growth in voice calls being made around the world, this has coincided with significant growth in fraud and scam calls, with an average of about 150 scam calls per person, per annum. He revealed that our growing connectivity is as much a boon for scammers as it is for consumers.

The march of digital transformation inevitably exposes more and more people to digital processes, and Keiron Dalton, VP International at Prove, revealed that this creates a new level of exposure to vulnerable groups who may not be as fluent in the use of digital technologies.

These scams can be incredibly widespread, from romance scams to employment scams. What is evident is that scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and use an array of social engineering approaches to make their attacks as tailored and realistic as possible.

Scam prevention

Cray revealed that iconectiv use a cryptographic approach to stop spoof calls at the source. This hopefully provides users with confidence that the people calling them can be trusted. He reveals that in the first three months of using the approach, it reduced robocalls by approximately 90%, suggesting that technology can be highly effective at reducing the scam risk end-users experience.

At Telefonica, the company is using a range of approaches to try and reduce the number of scams people are exposed to. Povah revealed, however, that it is a constant battle as criminals are always evolving their approaches to try and capitalize on new technologies and new circumstances to identify and target vulnerable groups. They’re increasingly using a collaborative approach with partners, such as banks, to better spot scammers.

This collaborative approach is key, with Dalton revealing that collaboration among ecosystem partners is as strong today as it has ever been, which has been crucially important in tackling the problem. Indeed, he suggests it has resulted in a six-fold increase in scam detection and prevention. His company alone is tracking around 250,000 transactions per week that are identified as high risk. Despite these efforts, however, scams remain the number 1 source of fraud and so the industry cannot rest in its fight against scammers.

Cray believes that this collaborative approach will ultimately result in global standards designed in areas such as cryptography. With many robocallers operating internationally, this global approach is likely to be crucial, just as it is with cybersecurity more broadly. In the early stages, this collaborative approach is likely to begin in areas that are tangible, with data science at the heart of efforts to move beyond merely talking about the problem and developing actual solutions.

The panel was universally optimistic that progress was being made, however, and that the ecosystem is getting much better at helping people to prove who they say they are, which is ultimately what will help strangle the threat of scam attacks at source. Time will tell just how justified this optimism is.