How effective are phone scams? A new survey finds that phone scams are even more pervasive—and persuasive—than you might have thought.

Approximately one in 10 American adults lost money to a phone scam in the past 12 months for a total of $7.4 billion, according to Truecaller, a provider of mobile communication applications, including caller ID and spam detection. Put another way, 27 million Americans lost an average of $274 each in 2015.

That figure represents a 53 percent increase over 2014—cause for concern because it shows that, despite progress in fraud detection, phone scams and spam continue to increase at an astonishing rate. 

Unexpected Victims

While adults ages 55 and older receive more telemarketing spam calls than younger adults, surprisingly, millennials—people between the ages of 18 and 34—are the most vulnerable to losing money in a phone scam. Millennial men represent 38 percent of all phone scam victims while women account for 17 percent. 

While scammers previously targeted landlines, nearly three-quarters of victims in 2015 were called on their mobile phones, an increase of over 50 percent since 2014. Unfortunately, this trend is likely to continue. Although the Federal Communications Commission had strengthened protections against debt collectors calling a cellphone to dun late-paying loan holders, the Congressional budget bill passed in November contravened the FCC’s ruling—and new scams will likely take advantage of this.

Topping the Scam List

The largest and fastest-growing scam is the Internal Revenue Service scam, in which a scammer pretending to be from the IRS duns you for nonpayment of taxes and threatens to arrest you. The IRS scam accounted for nearly a quarter of all scams reported in 2015—more than the next three most common scams combined. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has called this scam “the largest of its kind that we have ever seen. The callers are aggressive and relentless,” he continued. “Once they have your attention, they will say anything to con you out of your hard-earned cash."

Making Scam-Spotting Easier

One bright spot amidst the thickening clouds of scams: New rules from the Federal Trade Commission makes it easier to spot telephone scams and fraudulent telemarketing schemes by banning three types of payment methods frequently used by con artists. It is now illegal for any telephone solicitors to ask for and accept the following three types of payment options:

  • Wire transfers, such as Western Union, MoneyGram, and RIA Money Transfer.
  • Cash reload cards, such as Money-Pak, Vanilla Reload, and Reloadit. 
  • Remotely created electronic checks, which make it possible to use someone else’s bank account to withdraw money. That means a telemarketer can no longer ask you for the numbers at the bottom of your check to make a payment. 

If a caller asks you to pay using one of these three types of payment methods, you’ll know right away that it’s a scam. Hang up the phone immediately. 

Then sign the petition at EndRobocalls.org to demand that your phone company provide free call-blocking software to prevent future scam calls.