Americans lost $29.8 billion to phone scams in the past year, study finds

4 weeks ago 8
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The number of spam calls, the number of people losing money to them and the total amount of money lost In the past year are all record setting.

Phone call from unknown number late at night. Scam, fraud or phishing with smartphone concept. Prank caller, scammer or stranger. Man answering to incoming call.

Image: Tero Vesalainen, Getty Images/iStockphoto

A study of U.S. residents has found that one in three say they've fallen victim to a phone scam in the past year, and 19% say they've been duped more than once. Totaling 59.4 million people, the money lost in the past year increased by 51% over last year for a total of $29.8 billion. 

The data, from caller ID and spam blocking app Truecaller and Harris Poll, paints a picture of Americans ripe for the picking by phone scammers and spammers who are only growing in number and effectiveness, despite 85% saying they only answer calls if they can identify the caller. 

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In 2019, for example, 43 million Americans lost approximately $10.5 billion, and in 2020 that number jumped to 56 million people losing $19.7 billion. Now in 2021, for which data from 2020 is included, the number of those who fell for scams only increased slightly to 59.4 million, but the total lost skyrocketed to the $29.8 billion mentioned above. 

The average loss per victim increased by 43% in the past 12 months as well, reaching an all-time high of $502 per person. 

COVID-19 related scams are a potential cause of the increase in successful phone fraud: In March 2020, 44% said they had received a scam call or text mentioning the coronavirus pandemic. The latest survey data, which was gathered in March 2021, shows that 59% received COVID-related scam calls or texts in the 12 months since then. With attempts to control the pandemic continuing, Truecaller said they expect the COVID-19 scam trend to increase in the next year as well.

Interestingly, robocalls decreased slightly in the past year, though Truecaller said they remain a problem. "According to the Federal Trade Commission, any robocall trying to sell you something is illegal, unless the caller has written permission, directly from you, to call you in this way [and] you always retain the right to revoke that permission at any time."

Of all the data included in Truecaller's report, the most startling has to be the demographics of call and text scam victims. Instead of older people, who are often assumed to be the most common victims of scams, the reality of Trucaller's data shows that most victims are younger and male. 

59.4% of victims who responded to Truecaller's survey were male, and 46% of male victims were between the ages of 35 and 44, with a further 40% being 18-34. For women, the most common age group was 18-34 (31%), and 35-44 (25%). 

SEE: How to manage passwords: Best practices and security tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

These demographic findings track with previous data reported by TechRepublic, which found that 40% of those aged 20-29 lost money to fraud, while only 18% of those over 70 have. The New York Times also recently published data with similar findings as well, again upending the notion that older, less tech-savvy people are the ones falling for scams. 

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