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It’s not just spam email that are a major problem

Spam calls and text messages have shot up, too.

We’re all, by now, well aware of the risk of spam email messages that are designed to trick us into clicking fake links and phish our personal details from us. We’ve invented spam filters and launched enormous public awareness campaigns to warn people about the risks involved, and to give them the skill set to avoid falling victim to spam emails. But an under covered, under acknowledged type of spam is calls and text messages.

The volume of both is increasing exponentially – and the coronavirus hasn’t seen a slowdown in the long run in the scale of attacks. Brazil is the most spammed country in the world, according to analysis of 145 billion calls and text messages received by users of Truecaller, followed by the United States. The UK is seventh in the world, and fourth in Europe, when ranked by spam volumes.

“This is the fourth edition of the Truecaller Insights Report, and what is noticeable is the significant shift in the countries that spammers are targeting,” said Kim Fai Kok, director of communications at Truecaller. 

“Across the world, bad actors and criminals are using technologies like robocalls to take advantage of the public’s uncertainties about the pandemic to send out record numbers of scam calls and messages.”

Tectonic shifts in spam calling

While many of the spam calls people receive are from legitimate companies trying to sell their wares, a good number of them are now from criminals looking to exploit people’s goodwill for their own personal gain. Scammers account for more than a third of all spam calls received this year. And their proportion of the total is rising. 

Between April and October, scam spam calls rose by nearly 60%.

That’s a greater rate of increase than salespeople, who account for around one in four spam calls received. 

“Besides the sheer nuisance value of receiving unwanted calls and texts, there’s clear evidence bad actors are exploiting the public’s fears about the pandemic,” said Kim Fai Kok. The scammers are utilising fear and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic in order to exploit victims – much in the same way that cybercriminals have used COVID-19 as a way to try and leverage access to people’s bank accounts using spam emails.

Bad actors are entering the space

“An increasingly common scam is being told you need to urgently pay for a COVID-19 test as you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive,” explains Kim Fai Kok. “They’re very convincing and manage to convince a lot of worried people to pass on their credit card details which are then used to defraud them of their money.”

The pandemic put a small dent in the scale and volume of spam calls and text messages received worldwide, but scammers soon found their feet and rebounded with a greater volume of missives than ever before. Spam calls and texts have increased by an average of 9.7% month on month. 

In October 2020, a record high number of spam calls was recorded, driven by a 22% jump in activity compared to before the lockdown.

“Rather than mitigating spam the pandemic only offered a brief respite to victims of scammers,” says Kim Fai Kok. “Even though a large number of countries have re-entered lockdown in the latter part of 2020, this hasn’t affected global spam rates negatively. If anything, spammers have now adjusted to a COVID world.”

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