Credit cards a top target of phone scams, report says

Credit card scams – specifically scams involving reduced interest rates on credit card accounts – topped the list of phone scams by volume in the first nine months of 2014, according to a new report by Pindrop Security.

Researchers at the company conducted an analysis of more than 26,000 comments from complaints around the web regarding suspicious calls, Raj Bandyopadhyay, chief data scientist with Pindrop Security, told in a Thursday email correspondence.

Credit card scams made up 18.5 percent of total phone scams, while offers for free home security systems came in at 13.6 percent, according to the report. Spam text messages fell in at 8.2 percent, free cruises at 7.5 percent, government grants at 7.4 percent, Microsoft tech support at 6.6 percent, auto insurance at 5.3 percent, payday loans at 5.2 percent, IRS scams at 5.0 percent, and bank scams at 4.6 percent.

“We estimate that the majority of these calls are being made from India and South Asian countries based on descriptions of the caller in the complaints,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Scare tactics play a big role, with two of the top phone scams involving victims being threatened with police action or arrest, the report indicated, explaining that 60 percent of phone scams involve fraudsters impersonating financial or government institutions.

Other tactics used by fraudsters include enticing people with attractive offers, and pressuring people to give up information to avoid missing a deal, according to the report, which adds that scammers will often seek out information on their victims ahead of time in order to make a call seem more legitimate.

“While this cannot be confirmed in this report, Pindrop Security's Annual State of Phone Fraud Report has shown that 46 [percent] of fraudsters use VoIP services such as Skype or magicJack to place calls,” Bandyopadhyay said. “This “spoofing” tactic allows fraudsters to have the number of the incoming call have a similar area code to the caller while enabling them to reroute phone calls through different countries to avoid detection.”

While these types of scams have been going on for decades, the numbers have gone up in recent years because VoIP technology provides fraudsters a cheap and easy method to spoof IDs and make hundreds of calls per day, Bandyopadhyay said.

Depending on the operation, those calls are made by real people, or are automated and use a prerecorded message – a tactic known as robo-calling, or robo-dialing.

“In the case of robo-dialing, the automated calling system just dials numbers at random based on a targeted area using the first [six] digits of a number,” Bandyopadhyay said. “Social engineering scams target specific populations such as immigrants, elderly, etc., likely buying numbers off of the black market.”

Earnings can vary depending on the scam, Bandyopadhyay said, explaining fraudsters asked each victim for about $200 in the Microsoft tech support scams, and asked each victim for approximately $5,000 in the IRS scams.

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