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Privacy Tip #265 – COVID-19 Phone Scams Continue to Victimize

Working from home has shed a new light on robocalls. It is unbelievable how many robocalls I get at home even though I am on the Do Not Call List. It is very easy to monitor these calls. If I recognize the number, I may pick up. If I don’t, I let it ring until it goes to the answering service. If the caller doesn’t leave a message, it is clear that it is a scam. These days, even scammers leave a message. One day last week, a scammer left three separate messages asking me to call back or I would get arrested. This is obvious to me, but to many individuals, these calls sound real and are scary.

The same is true for my mobile telephone. The number of unknown callers to my cell phone has definitely increased during the pandemic, and I use the same technique with calls to my cell phone as I do for a residential line. It is very easy to have someone leave a message and then call them back if they are legitimate. Screening your calls should be automatic for your safety.

A new study by First Orion shows that phone scams using COVID-19 as the subject matter have been highly successful this year.

According to the 2020 Annual Scam Call Report, “[P]hone scammers are getting better at tricking you into giving up your personal information…The survey shows that scammers improved their efficiency in 2020, mainly using the COVID-19 pandemic to steal personal information from millions of victims. The data paints a clear picture of why people are becoming more reluctant to answer their phones if the call is from an unknown number.”

The survey shows that scammers are getting better at scamming people even though the scammers were calling people at the same rate as last year. The survey showed that “[I]n 2020, scammers succeeded in getting people to give up their personal information 270 percent more often than in 2019. More than one in four people reported a loss of personal information or financial loss due to a phone scam in 2020. What’s more, scams targeting Social Security numbers were 550 percent percent more effective in 2020.”

This result is shocking and disappointing. What’s more, the survey showed that because more people were at home to answer the phone, “[O]ut of all the scam calls that succeeded in getting personal information, 17 percent used the COVID-19 pandemic to get in the door. The next most frequent cover story was fake banks at 12 percent, followed by family threats (10 percent), offering a prize or money (9 percent), and student loan scams (9 percent). The pandemic also showed up in charity fraud. When scammers used fake charities as bait to scam people, 44 percent of them said they were collecting money for pandemic relief.”

Other typical phone scams included auto warranty calls which were the most common scam and actually doubled from 2019. Fake bank or credit card calls were the second most common, and false IRS/tax and insurance calls tied for the third most common.

The moral of this story is to refrain from answering calls from numbers you do not recognize, don’t fall for any of these common scams and don’t give anyone your personal information or money over the phone.

Copyright © 2021 Robinson & Cole LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 359



About this Author

Linn F. Freedman, Robinson Cole Law Firm, Cybersecurity and Litigation Law Attorney, Providence

Linn Freedman practices in data privacy and security law, cybersecurity, and complex litigation. She provides guidance on data privacy and cybersecurity compliance to a full range of public and private clients across all industries, such as construction, education, health care, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, utilities and critical infrastructure, marine, and charitable organizations. Linn is a member of the firm's Business Litigation Group and chairs its Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team. She is also a member of the Financial Services Cyber-Compliance Team (CyFi ...