The COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate has put a significant dent in the ability of bad actors to launch robocall campaigns, driving a 15% drop in unwanted calls in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period during the prior year. However, bad actors quickly pivoted to pandemic-focused scams in an attempt to fleece Americans out of their money and personal information – according to the Transaction Network Services (TNS) Fall 2020 Robocall Investigation Report released today.
Despite the drop, more than 100 billion unwanted calls have been made in the last 12 months. Notably, the TNS report finds twice as many unwanted calls were placed to wireline (home/office) telephone numbers over the past year than were made to wireless numbers (smartphone/feature phone) – suggesting that tier-1 wireless providers’ “opt-out” call blocking and labeling services, implementation of STIR/SHAKEN call authentication framework and aggressive FCC enforcement action may be impacting bad actor tactics.
The TNS Robocall Investigation Report is a bi-annual update of key robocall trends drawing from over one billion daily call events from more than 500 carriers. The report looks at data trends for two types of unwanted robocalls: high-risk robocalls (scam/fraudulent calls which attempt to acquire call recipient personal information and/or money) and nuisance robocalls (which are not of malicious intent).
A number of factors have collided to create unique shifts in robocall volume and trends during the past 12 months, including the coronavirus pandemic, heightened regulatory enforcement, carrier and vendor technology innovation, and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.
Additional key report findings:
- Robocall volume is down. Bad actors and legitimate call originators struggled with shutdowns and shifting to a “work from home” environment beginning in March, which is when TNS first saw a drop in unwanted calls. The pandemic, combined with carriers blocking more calls, led to a 17% drop in nuisance calls and 14% drop in high-risk calls in 1H 2020 compared to 1H 2019.
- But COVID-19 robocall scams are up. The FTC reported 126,902 COVID-19 fraud incidents in the first half of the year, resulting in approximately $70 million in losses. Scammers seized on consumer fear and confusion to launch a barrage of pandemic scams around stimulus checks, fake cures and test kits, health insurance, student loans and robocalls targeting seniors. TNS found 89% of seniors receive at least one robocall per week, while more than half (56%) receive at least seven robocalls per week.
- Political robocalls spiked ahead of state primaries. When compared to a typical week, almost every state saw a rise in robocall activity of between 150% and 600% in the week leading up to their primary voting date. The data suggest political robocalls will spike again as the November 2020 Presidential election gets closer.
- Robocalls to wireline numbers are 2x greater than volume to wireless devices. Forty percent of the total calls to wireline telephone numbers are unwanted compared to 20% for wireless telephone numbers. In addition, the total number of unwanted calls to wireline numbers is trending flat while the total number of unwanted calls to wireless numbers is dropping.
- Spoofing of enterprise toll-free numbers grows. While neighbor spoofing decreased 39% 1H 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 as a result of STIR/SHAKEN implementation and the use by carriers of advanced data, toll-free originated calls have increased from 12% of unwanted calls in 2018 to 32% this year. VoIP-originated calls still account for 50% of unwanted calls.
- Smaller carriers are still a large source of high-risk robocalls. Calls from the top five carriers (AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, T-Mobile and Verizon) accounted for 74% of the total number of calls in 1H 2020, up from 68% in 1H 2019. On the other hand, more than 90% of scam/fraud calls come from numbers not owned by Tier-1 carriers.
“The drop in robocalls is welcome news for consumers, but may be short-lived as stay-at-home measures ease which means that regulators, carriers and industry participants must remain aggressive in combating bad actors,” said Mike Keegan, Chief Executive Officer at TNS. “We also believe there should be as much focus going forward on making sure legitimate calls get through and answered as there is on blocking unwanted calls. The challenges faced by COVID-19 contact tracing and other important automated call campaigns around getting the call to the subscriber and getting the subscriber to answer the call underscore the risks when legitimate calls can’t get through or go unanswered. Restoring trust in voice calling will come down to leveraging advanced data analytics to rapidly and accurately identify unwanted calls as well as legitimate calls.”
Click here to request a full copy of the Fall 2020 TNS Robocall Investigation Report.
About Transaction Network Services
From small rural operators in the US to the largest multi-national carriers, TNS has over 500 operator customers and addresses the full needs of wireless and wireline operators in the US and globally. The TNS Call Guardian robocall detection solution is used by leading US wireless service providers as well as US landline providers and is accessible via numerous types of signaling protocols, can be customized by the individual operator, and is available to all types of service providers, including wireless, VoIP, and TDM wireline. TNS analyzes over 1 billion call events across over 500 operators every single day. For additional information visit here.
Brian Lustig, Bluetext for TNS