Are you a target for robocall scams?

SCAM ALERT

Are you a target for robocall scams?

Four behaviors make you more likely to be a victim

Published: June 24, 2015 06:00 AM

Telemarketing fraud is estimated to cost consumers $350 million a year—and it often begins with a robocall. Are you a likely target?

As the cost of auto-dialing hundreds or thousands of numbers continues to plummet, no telephone number is safe from these unsolicited telemarketing calls or scams. But some numbers—and some consumers—are more vulnerable than others.

It used to be that robocalls were mostly limited to people with traditional landlines. That disproportionately targeted seniors since the older the phone number, the more likely it is to get robocalls, explains Aaron Foss, inventor of Nomorobo call-blocking technology.

Today, scammers are more likely to identify potential victims not through their phone numbers but by trolling the Internet. “It is really shocking how much detailed information about us is available for sale in the form of lists—lists of people who recently had surgery or who take medicine for high blood pressure,” says Doug Shadel, a scam-watcher for the AARP.

For more information, read "Protect Yourself from Robocalls."

Telemarketing fraud is estimated to cost consumers $350 million a year—and it often begins with a robocall. Are you a likely target?

As the cost of auto-dialing hundreds or thousands of numbers continues to plummet, no telephone number is safe from these unsolicited telemarketing calls or scams. But some numbers—and some consumers—are more vulnerable than others.

READ Consumers Union's Report on How Phone Companies Could End Unwanted Robocalls

It used to be that robocalls were mostly limited to people with traditional landlines. That disproportionately targeted seniors since the older the phone number, the more likely it is to get robocalls, explains Aaron Foss, inventor of Nomorobo call-blocking technology.

Today, scammers are more likely to identify potential victims not through their phone numbers but by trolling the Internet. “It is really shocking how much detailed information about us is available for sale in the form of lists—lists of people who recently had surgery or who take medicine for high blood pressure,” says Doug Shadel, a scam-watcher for the AARP.

A recent AARP survey found that certain behaviors and life experiences might make a person more vulnerable to online fraud. Interestingly, some of these attributes may also signal greater likelihood to be a victim of robocall scams. These include:

  • Being more impulsive
    Previous research has found a correlation between fraud victimization and impulsivity. In the AARP survey, victims scored significantly higher on questions that predict impulsive actions such as, “I do things that are bad for me, even if they are fun,” and “I often do things without thinking through all of the alternatives.” More victims also agreed with the statement, “I don’t mind taking chances with my money, as long as I think there’s a chance it might pay off.”
  • Being negative about life events
    It seems unfair but people who have had something bad happen to them—the loss of a job, a negative change in financial status, stress associated with moving, concerns about being lonely, divorce, or a serious injury or illness—are significantly more likely to be open to scammers. “It takes cognitive energy to deal with the event, so your scam immune system is weakened,” suggests Doug Shadel, one of the authors of the AARP study. “When you’re in one of those situations, you’re vulnerable.”
  • Feeling isolated
    Victims often have a weaker social network than non-victims, reporting that they often or sometimes feel a lack of companionship, or feel left out or isolated. Fewer victims than non-victims report using Facebook to keep in touch with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
  • Worrying about debt
    A 2013 study by the Federal Trade Commission found that individuals who were worried about debt were more likely to report being a victim of fraud. The AARP survey replicated the FTC findings. More victims reported that they have as much debt or more than they can handle, compared to non-victims.

Though not every older person is likely to fall into a scammer’s trap, those who are vulnerable are very vulnerable indeed. When someone is feeling lonely, anxious or down in the dumps, it’s not surprising that they might reach out for human contact at the other end of a telemarketing call. Similarly, they might just be curious enough to see what happens when they press 1 to connect.

That’s why the best advice when you receive a robocall is: Don’t engage. Don’t press 1. Don’t talk to a live person.

Pressing 1 only verifies that there is a real person picking up the phone, and consequently you may receive more calls. Even pressing 9—to indicate you don’t want to receive the call—shows that you’re a live respondent. Scammers will put your number into a queue to target later.

Your safest strategy: Just hang up. 

Catherine Fredman


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