But a new report released this month finds Americans haven’t seen much relief in the intervening years with scammers proving ever-more sophisticated — and using texts more and more — to get around the roadblocks placed in their way. The 2021 Global Spam Report from Truecaller, a caller ID and spam blocking app, revealed plenty of worrying trends in the never-ending effort to block unwanted calls and texts, which are annoyances at best and criminal scams at worst.
“It's a cat and mouse game” said Clayton LiaBraaten, Truecaller senior strategic advisor, on Yahoo Finance Live. LiaBraaten discussed the report's findings, noting that government has indeed taken aggressive steps but “for every counter measure there is an equal and opposite circumvention and the criminals are very clever.”
LiaBraaten adds that scammers are effective because they “pay a lot of attention to current events, [tapping] into the fears of the vulnerable to try and victimize them.”
Experts have noted that the coronavirus has provided a rich terrain for robocallers and scammers, who have used the pandemic for illegal gain. The Better Business Bureau closely tracks these online scams and recently found that one in 10 American adults are victims of fraud in any given year.
A U.S.-specific spam report — released in June by Truecaller — found that nearly 60 million Americans report having lost money to phone scams in 2021. That’s up from about 56 million in 2020 and 43 million a year prior.
‘The bad guys decided to start texting’
The Truecaller data found that Americans received 30.7 spam calls in an average month in 2021 which is roughly consistent with recent years.
But what has shot upwards are spam texts.
The report found that Americans now receive 16.9 spam texts every month. That’s up from 14.7 in 2020, 10.6 in 2019 and is nearly double the 8.5 unwanted texts Americans got in 2018.
The 2019 law, called the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, was focused on spam calls specifically on "spoofing" when people are tricked into thinking an incoming phone call is coming from a nearby number or from a legitimate place like the Social Security Administration.
The idea of the law was to make phone companies better at identifying calls correctly through protocols known as STIR/SHAKEN. A recent update from the Federal Communications Commission on implementation of the law notes that the largest providers recently met a June 30th deadline to use the protocols.
But “as those measures went into place, the bad guys decided to start texting” notes LiaBraaten, adding that “they’re very agile in the originating numbers that they use and it's a numbers game for them.”
“I expect that in 2022, we will see [text spam] increase even more as the success rate is increasing for those text criminals” he added.
Other findings from the report
Overall, the report found that spam calls and texts continue largely unabated around the world. Globally, billions of spam calls are placed every month and the number of calls often rises alongside a surge in COVID cases.
Brazil is the most spammed country by far, according to the report, which also said robocall-driven scams around the world featured false promises of life-saving COVID drugs, ventilators or hospital beds that are offered for sale but don’t actually exist.
But there is one glimmer of good news for Americans: the U.S. dropped significantly in the rankings of most spammed nations. In 2020, Americans were the second most spammed population but they fell to No. 20 in 2021. That was “largely due to the increase of spam call volumes in other countries” the report notes.
The global report covers the period from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2021 and is based on aggregated and anonymized data from Truecaller users. The worldwide and national totals were arrived at by extrapolating the data to the entire population of phone users.
Another measure of the problem is a robocall index from YouMail, another software company. Their latest data finds that 4.1 billion robocalls were placed to Americans in November. In March, nearly 5 million robocalls were placed — the highest number of calls within a month this year.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.