Think those telemarketers are bad? Turns out robocallers are much more devious than ever before. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 3.7 million complaints of fake calls, millions of which were from robots. But, it gets worse: According to the FTC, robocall scams cost the public over $226 million in the first quarter of 2019 alone.
To uncover top offenders, FitSmallBusiness.com researched the worst robocalls plaguing consumers in 2019. We focused on those claiming to be from some of the world’s biggest companies — and even the U.S. government. As support for our ranking, we referenced studies from the FTC, the IRS, McAfee, Yahoo Finance, Microsoft, The Identity Theft Resource Center, Fast Company, and Data-Driven Labs.
Our ranking of the 10 worst robocalls of 2019 is based on the number of potential victims and considered the following factors:
- Potential victims (40%): As mentioned above, the total possible affected population was a major factor in our research and ranking.
- Legal penalties (30%): Where legal action was taken by a major corporation/government in responses to a robocall scam, we included this information.
- Recorded damages (30%): Many victims of robocall scams do not report their damages to agencies, but where possible, we noted aggregate amounts.
Here are the 10 worst robocalls of 2019:
1. Jury Duty & Jail Time (Public Service Scams)
Most targeted company/entity: U.S. Government (Jury Duty)
Potentially affected citizens: 300 million
Robocall script: “This is a call from (your local sheriff’s department) to notify you that you have a warrant for your arrest for failure to appear for jury duty…”
As if jury duty wasn’t dreaded enough, how about getting a phone call notifying you that you missed jury duty and are now subject to jail time — that is, if you don’t pay your fine to them immediately. Scammers pose as local sheriffs and they tell recipients that there is a warrant for their arrest. However, for varying sums — usually between $200 and $500 — your warrant can be lifted. It’s a price many are willing to pay to avoid jail time.
In truth, however, the price victims pay is a lot higher than the few hundred bucks. In the process of collecting your “bond” money, the scammer also asks for personal information — including your social security number. The scammer is then able to open accounts in your name and rack up debt. This ultimately results in your credit score tanking as you fail to make payments on debt you don’t know exists.
2. When the “IRS” Rings (Tax Scams)
Most targeted company/organization: Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Potentially affected citizens: 300 million
Robocall script: “This call is an official final notice call from the Internal Revenue Service. We have filed a lawsuit…”
As the old adage goes, there are two guarantees in life: death and taxes. What isn’t guaranteed is that you’ll do your taxes correctly. So, when IRS-fearing people receive calls claiming to be from the IRS notifying them that their taxes were filed incorrectly, they jump at the opportunity to pay a fine and avoid jail time. The robocallers aren’t actually calling from the IRS, however; instead, they’re scamming people out of money while playing on their fear of imprisonment.
These scams have been around for a while. By 2013, they were collecting millions; in fact, they netted $23 million between 2013 and 2015 alone. In that same time period, The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) received around 736,000 scam reports. In the IRS’s most recent scam alert, it noted this IRS impostor tax scam is serious and warned consumers that they notify people by mail, not phone. If you receive one of these calls, hang up and report it to the TGIA.
3. Hackers in the Cloud (Tech Support Scams)
Most targeted company: Apple
Potentially affected customers: 175 million
Robocall script: “This is a notification from Apple. Fraudulent activity has been detected on your account…”
Fake tech support reps are taking a bite out of Apple users — over $5 million worth in quarter one— by claiming that customers have a security issue on their Mac, iPhone, or iCloud account. These scams even provide “professional” email addresses and direct users to a legitimate Apple support page, increasing their perceived authenticity. Regardless, they’re fake and they’re out to gain remote access to your computer and steal your data and personal information.
Apple has publicly warned consumers about these robocalls, though that has not deterred scammers from continuing their attempts at fraud and identity theft. Apple has also said that they do not call consumers outside of call requests, so if you receive an unsolicited call, it’s a fake and should be reported.
4. Going Viral (Computer Virus Scams)
Most targeted company: Microsoft
Potentially affected customers: 120 million
Robocall script: “This is an urgent call from Microsoft Windows. We have found several problems with your computer. Please turn it on so we can show you the problems…”
Computer viruses can cause real damage, so when thousands of people were called by “Microsoft” informing them of a virus, many were quick to accept services from “tech support” to remove it. In reality, these victims were dealing with a scammer, not a virus. The scammer gained remote access to private computers across the country and collected personal information, including banking details and credit card numbers.
Tech support scams are one of the most common types of robocall scams — so much so that Microsoft has created its own digital crime bureau called the Microsoft Cybercrime Center. In fact, it has a team of over 60 working to bust scams. But this work isn’t easy; these scams are very difficult to track as they come from a multitude of different sources, primarily from scammers overseas.
5. Getting Stiffed (Pharmaceutical Scams)
Most targeted company: Viagra (Pfizer)
Potentially affected customers: 60 million
Robocall script: “If you suffer from erectile dysfunction you’re not alone…”
Despite that erectile dysfunction is a male-only issue, robocall scammers are targeting all genders with a Viagra pitch intended to collect personal information and credit card details. While its lack of clear targeting makes it an ineffective scam, it’s one of the worst due to the sheer volume of calls it makes.
The main culprit screwing the public with these erectile dysfunction robocalls is a company called U.S. Pharmacy, which is trying to illegally pedal drugs such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. They’re known for being one of the worst robocall companies as they call nonstop and from “unknown” numbers so that recipients can’t block or report the number. These scams have prompted the government to take action against these illegal, and fake, drug peddlers.
6. Lose Coverage or Lose Your Identity (Health Insurance Scams)
Most targeted company: Blue Cross Blue Shield
Potentially affected customers: 30 million
Robocall script: “I’m a Blue Cross Blue Shield representative and I need to confirm your information…”
Those with health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield are falling victim to a robocall attack that phishes for Social Security numbers and sells expensive medical prescriptions. Scammers pretend they’re a Blue Cross representative and ask you to confirm your information. With that, they typically open credit card accounts, landing you in a pile of debt, bad credit, and a mess to clean up.
Health insurance fraud plays on people’s fear of losing coverage. This fear is so great that The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) estimates healthcare fraud causes financial losses in the tens of billions of dollars each year. This not only includes the cost associated with individuals’ identity theft, but the legal action providers pursue and the programs they create to protect consumers.
7. Google My Shutdown (Internet Services Scams)
Most targeted company: Google My Business
Potentially affected customers: 15 million
Robocall script: “If you do not act soon, Google will label your business as permanently closed. Press one now to speak with a Google specialist.”
Many small businesses depend on Google for brand visibility and awareness. One surefire way for small businesses to do so is through Google My Business (GMB) accounts, so when thousands of businesses got a call that claimed to be from Google, they listened. What this call said was that their GMB would be shut down if they didn’t respond.
Of course, there was a catch: Businesses with GMB listings would have to pay a fee ranging from $300 to $700 to avoid having their listing removed. Scammers would then pitch an upsell SEO service to the tune of $950 with a monthly recurring fee of $170. While it’s unclear how many people received these calls or how much money was stolen, Google stepped in, saying they never contact people and created an official GMB: Report a Violation page on their site.
8. Bezos Is Hiring (Job Opportunities Scams)
Most targeted company: Amazon
Potentially affected customers: 13 million
Robocall script: “We are recruiting for Amazon jobs in your area. Hourly rates start at $27…”
Work from home jobs are the best — especially when you’re getting recruited by the world’s largest ecommerce company, Amazon. Be wary, however; recent scam calls claiming to offer work-from-home Amazon jobs are sniping identities across the country. These calls sell you on a fabulous new career that will beef up your bank account in no time, but in reality, end up threatening your livelihood.
The Amazon job scam isn’t the first one dropping Amazon’s name to convince people to share sensitive info. Other big retailers suffer from the same scam. While it’s not a type of scam that is growing, it does have a high average loss per victim at $1,000.
9. Trump Needs YOU! (Political Solicitation Scams)
Most targeted company/organization: President Trump Campaign
Potentially affected citizens: 12 million
Robocall script: “I’m Donald Trump. Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border, out of love and devotion to our country…”
Pesky political campaigns might be even worse than you thought. In January 2019, over 200,000 people were called by an organization that claimed to be campaigning for President Donald Trump’s re-election. Within one month, they collected over $100,000. However, they’re in no way affiliated with the Trump campaign, nor was the money used to support it, according to records from the Federal Election Commission.
The amount collected in this scam isn’t astronomical, but it’s not the first of its kind — or even the first from this same group. Phone scams soliciting money for fake causes isn’t new, but they are becoming a growing problem. Be warned that this is a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle, where money is spent to set up the robocall, which then collects money that is used to fund future phone scams.
10. The Big Brake (Automotive Recall Scams)
Most targeted company: Toyota
Potentially affected customers: 9 million
Robocall script: “This is a call from the Toyota Recall Team in reference to (your VIN) …”
The Toyota lethal gas pedal scandal of 2009 — wherein thousands of gas pedals stuck during driving — led to one of the largest automotive recalls in the last decade. Those Toyota owners lucky enough to go unharmed may still be at risk, but not of a sticky gas pedal. Now, scammers are targeting those involved in the mass recall, posing as representatives from Toyota in order to steal money and identities.
Automotive recall scams are common, and work well because users expect to receive a notice about their recall and are prepared to provide information to process it. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, auto scammers do this by pretending to be from consumer advocacy groups calling to inform car owners that their vehicle is the subject of a recent major recall.
Bottom Line – Worst Robocalls of 2019
There’s no such thing as a good robocall, and they’re only getting worse with more sophisticated technology. The worst ones, however, claim to be businesses and organizations people have connections to, making them believe the fake call is real. These impostor scams work to steal your money and identity, and while there’s no way to prevent them, there are ways to defend yourself against them.
Start by educating yourself on the chosen communication methods of the companies with which you do business. Also, always look for verification of email sources and wait for confirmation of identity from phone-based representatives. The best way to protect yourself from any robocall scam, however, is to register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry. Also, be sure to stop scammers by reporting any robocalls you receive to the Federal Trade Commission.