“IRS robocall” scams dropped 89% but scammers have found a new way to attack

Government institutions around the world see phone fraud as a serious threat that could affect millions of people. In the United States, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FCT) mentions that American citizens have lost at least $500 million USD to telephone fraudsters posing as public officials.

One of the most popular scams is the so-called “IRS robocall”, in which victims are scammed using a recording that informs them of an alleged legal process against them filed by the ISR, the U.S. tax authority.

Authorities report that legal complaints about these calls have been reduced by nearly 90% over the past year, indicating that people have learned about this behavior. However, the criminals do not stop and have begun to test new methods of attack, modifying the recording sent to users, which now goes like this: “This phone call is related to your Social Security number; we’ve detected fraudulent activity using your name.”

So tells Machel Anderson, a woman who received one of these calls last January. Anderson followed the instructions mentioned in the recording so that he could speak to an alleged official, who assured her that her Social Security number had been compromised.

“The person I spoke to on the phone told me that I and my family were in serious danger, as a group of drug traffickers was using my personal information to do various fraudulent activities,” Anderson says. The woman goes on saying that the scammers recommended that she transfer all her money to an account in some tax haven: “I sent more than $150k USD to Hong Kong thinking that my money would be safe there,” she adds.

Needless to say, no government institution acts in such a way. Anderson panicked and believed all the scammers’ lies, so his family lost their savings. 

Steve Baker, from non-profit organization Better Business Bureau mentions that complaints about this popular fraud variant have increased by nearly 400% relative to figures registered in 2018: “I would be surprised if the numbers do not increase at the end of the 2019-2020 period”, Baker says. Other attacks, such as those using phone ID counterfeiters, have also shown significant increases.

On the other hand, some cybersecurity experts believe that the pandemic could also have affected some of these malicious operations, so the figures at the end of 2020 are likely to show a slight decline in these practices; however, we should not forget that the scammers’ groups have great resources and adaptability, so it is better to be prepared.