The Spooky World of Scam Calls

Scam calls are “unsolicited calls where fraudsters utilize a range of social engineering techniques to steal money or information from the victim through deception (1).” Caller IDs are not spoof-proof, and illegal robocalls are a menace on many communication networks – both of which facilitate scam calls. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported receiving 1.25 million fraud complaints.

Despite technological advances, scam calls are rising by the day as threat actors get increasingly creative at luring their targets. Some act friendly; others threaten victims with dire consequences; some play on fear while others make fake promises. In 2020, Covid-19 topped as the most recent honeytrap for scam callers. As the world grappled with uncertainty around vaccine supply, scammers took advantage to ‘promise’ vaccine delivery in exchange for sensitive personal data (3). In one survey, nearly 3 in 5 adults in the USA reported receiving calls and messages related to the pandemic over the past year (2). In other cases, scam callers appear to offer technical support, monetary prizes, and more.

The tip of the iceberg

Scam calls are just the tip of the iceberg. While they may seem more of a menace than harmful, scam calls are often part of a larger plot. Scammers look to collect sensitive personal information from their targets to execute other telecom frauds (4). The results of such fraud for customers can range from identity theft to monetary losses, while for telcos, it involves reputational damage and revenue losses.

What regulators are doing

According to Truecaller, more than 59 million people were affected by robocall scams between June 2020 and 2021, losing US $29.8 billion in total (5). Unwanted calls mark the reason behind most of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ‘s consumer complaints, and thus FCC has made it their top priority to ensure consumer protection.

In the USA, the FCC is working on improving network security by clamping down on robocalls in collaboration with telecom companies. Some of their measures include spending dollars on actioning complaints, while others include policy decisions that mandate sharing of customer compliant data and call analytics to better identify robocalls before they reach the targeted subscriber (6). In a bid to mitigate robocalling, the FCC has also issued a set of caller ID authentication standards known as STIR/SHAKEN, whereby voice service providers must verify that the incoming call is actually from the number being displayed on the device screen (5).

In the UK, there are serious efforts to minimize the instances of robocalling. According to a spokesperson to the BBC, the lower barriers to entry simplify access to telecom infrastructures, making it easy for scammers to disguise themselves as legit businesses and make calls (7).

5 must-have anti-scam calls capabilities in your fraud management solution

Operators can take on an active role to thwart scam calls pervading through their network. Here are 5 key capabilities that can help telecom operators reduce the impact of scam calls:

  • Machine learning –Machine learning (ML) allows operators to spot suspicious deviations on calls and SMSs and detect anomalies in real-time with higher accuracy. ML empowers the operators to anticipate, make decisions, and take proactive actions.
  • Signaling security – By monitoring signaling traffic, the fraud management systems can detect attacks in real-time and stop them as they occur, thus securing the network against exploitation.
  • Real-time threat intelligence – Access to real-time threat intelligence, including a dataset of unallocated number ranges, intelligence capture using honeypot networks, gives operators up-to-date knowledge on what’s a threat and what isn’t so they can block scam calls in real-time.
  • Voice and SMS firewalls – Operators should consider extending firewalls to include integration with signaling-based fraud management systems that could identify frauds proactively and update the policies in firewalls to block them in the future.
  • Subscriber/customer awareness – Empowering customers with active knowledge about ongoing trends will help them stay wary of phone scams. It can significantly reduce the number of customers inadvertently becoming victims of scam calls.



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