FTC Warns that Robocall Scams are Becoming for Sophisticated

Inside Subprime: October 14, 2019

By Jessica Easto

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), robocalls aiming to defraud people of money are becoming more sophisticated as criminals use personal information to legitimize the scheme.

Consumer Reports tells the story of an elderly woman who lost $80,000 of her life savings to a robocall scam. It took only two calls. The first claimed to be the Social Security Office. Since the woman’s caller ID showed the number of the real office, and the man on the other line had her name and social security information, she believed them. And when the man explained there was an issue with her account that required her to wire him money, she did.

The second call came from someone posing as an FBI agent, an accomplice. He told the woman that the first man was a crook, and that the FBI needed money to catch him. She sent the money.

This type of robocall scheme is called an “imposter scam,” and tends to target senior citizens. According to the FTC, people have been filing fewer complaints about robocalls overall, but complaints about sophisticated imposter scams are skyrocketing. In May 2019, the FTC fielded more than 46,000 complaints about imposter scams.

Losses from imposter scams are also on the rise. FTC data shows that as of August 2019, consumers have lost more than $285 million. During the same period in 2018, losses were reported to be $239 million.

The program coordinator for the Do Not Call program at the FTC, which allows consumers to report complaints and register their phones on the Do Not Call list, says, “While less and less people are getting scammed overall, the few who are are seeing much bigger losses… And there are lots of individual consumers who lose everything.” 

Part of the problem is that scammers are utilizing more data, including personal data, in order to sound convincing. As we’ve seen, consumers can no longer trust what the number on the caller ID says. But scammers are also doing their research, including on social media or via leaked information from data breaches, to target individuals.

Many people have lots of identifying information readily accessible to the public on their social media profiles, and older people in particular might not immediately see the risk.

“Our older adults didn’t grow up with the internet, like I might have, and are really excited to be on there and to be able to share things,” says the director of the AARP’s fraud victim support. “But everybody is putting way too much information out on social media, regardless of if you’re in your 50s or under the age of 50.”

Older adults are key targets for scammers because they tend to result in bigger paydays for crooks, but all age groups are at risk for robocall scams. According to the FTC, consumers  younger than 60 report losing money at higher rates than those 60 and older. 

Learn more about payday loans, scams, and cash advances by checking out our city and state financial guides, including Chicago, Illinois, Florida, and Texas.