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Americans lost more money to phone scams last year because of the pandemic

·Reporter
·3 min read

The pandemic was a boon for phone scammers, according to a new survey, costing individuals hundreds of dollars on average.

About 1 in 6 Americans were scammed by phone over the past 12 months, a recent Harris Poll and Truecaller ID survey of 2,024 adults found, with the average amount lost increasing to $502, up from $351 the previous year. Overall, Americans lost $29.8 billion to phone scams last year.

“It's a numbers game for scammers,” Clayton LiaBraaten, senior advisory board member at Truecaller ID, told Yahoo Money. “They just have to find people who are very vulnerable, sound authoritative, and then they will be able to collect.”

Unknown caller on the phone. (Photo: Getty)
Unknown caller on the phone. (Photo: Getty)

The coronavirus pandemic is to blame for some of the uptick in scam calls, with 3 in 5 Americans reporting bogus calls or texts related to COVID-19.

“As soon as the restriction started to lift a little bit, criminals said, ‘Wait a minute, COVID is a fantastic opportunity. We can call people about PPE because nobody can get masks, we can call people about tests, and we can charge money for that,’” LiaBraaten said.

Read more: Telemarketing scams: What they are and how to avoid them

Robocalls, or computer-generated phone scams, continue to account for a large amount of overall scams, with an estimated 3 in 5 Americans admitting to losing money that way.

“It's important to note that it's not just a list of numbers,” LiaBraaten noted. “There are predictive dialers that are just turning through various permutations of phone numbers, and just trying to connect when they can.”

Robo calls and phone scams phish for phone numbers online. (Photo: Getty)
Robo calls and phone scams phish for phone numbers online. (Photo: Getty)

Of those scammed last year, the most popular ages were those 18 to 44 years old, which surprised LiaBraaten, who noted that the stereotype is that older people are more likely to fall victim to scams.

“I think it's important to keep in mind, these are the folks that in a survey admitted that they got scammed or know that they got scammed,” LiaBraaten said. “What the survey doesn't pick up is folks that went ahead and made payments and maybe they didn't ever realize it was a scam, or they won’t admit that they were taken advantage of.”

Read more: Travel scams: Here’s how to protect yourself

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself against scam calls. Registering your number on the do-not-call list and downloading a caller ID service can help. The most important step to safeguard your identity and finances is to never give out important personal information to strangers over the phone. LiaBraaten recommended asking callers to follow up regarding the issue via an email or to call back at a different time. This gives you a chance to do your research and know if the inquiry is legitimate.

“We have to remember how sophisticated and creative these criminals are,” LiaBraaten said.

Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.
Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

Marissa is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @MarissaLGamache.

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