Half of U.S. Mobile Calls Will Be Scams by 2019: Report

Scam calls are rising from about 3.7 percent of all calls just last year to nearly 30 percent of calls in 2018. By 2019, the number will be closer to 46 percent.

Paul Heltzel

November 20, 2018

2 Min Read
Person on phone

An alarming report released at the recent Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles suggests half of all mobile calls in the United States by 2019 will be scams.

The company that issued the report, First Orion, works with carriers--including T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint Prepaid--to identify and block fraudulent calls, using network data and machine learning.

The company says it “analyzed over 50 billion calls made to these customers over the past 18 months. By combining specific call patterns and behaviors with other phone number attributes, First Orion now predicts that nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be fraudulent in 2019.”

Scam calls are rising at an alarming clip, according to the report, from about 3.7 percent of all calls just last year to nearly 30 percent of calls in 2018. By 2019, the report suggests, the number will be closer to 46 percent.

“Since costs for voice-over-IP call termination [routing Internet-based calls from one provider to another] have come down, there are lower costs to pull off this sort of scam,” said Steven Andres, a management informations systems lecturer at San Diego State University. “Also, the use of ‘neighborhood’ attacks--using same area code and prefix as the victim--may have resulted in better outcomes, so maybe that contributes to the rise in scam calls claimed by FirstOrion.”

Neighborhood spoofing makes the scam calls appear to be local and increases the chances of someone answering.

The spoofed number is frequently a real customer’s number that leads to the owner receiving return calls without knowing the number has effectively been stolen to use for scam calls.

“Recently, the FCC joined forces with several technology companies … to find a way to combat these calls, but we still see rampant increases,” said Charles D. Morgan, CEO and head data scientist of First Orion, in a statement. “After working closely with several carriers, we’ve found that in-network solutions that leverage sophisticated data analysis and machine learning are by far the most accurate way to pinpoint the origin of a call and identify it before it reaches your phone.”

Andres said he doesn’t think the problem will be fixed until the carriers get involved.

“[First Orion] says they will implement their scam-call-prevention service into a Tier One carrier's network in Q4 2018, so it would be interesting to see how that goes on Jan. 1, after a while of real world implementation. Mobile apps that are on the end-user side--at the device--are at a disadvantage because they are usually triggered by consulting a blacklist of known-bad numbers. If the scammers are using a random number for each outbound phone call, it would be impossible to keep up and block all of those. I agree that a better solution would be on the telephone carrier side, but I don't know what the right solution would be.”


About the Author(s)

Paul Heltzel


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