A worrisome increase in call traffic from fraudsters exploiting the pandemic

There’s a worrisome increase in call traffic from bad actors looking to cash in on new vulnerabilities created by the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to research from Next Caller.

call traffic pandemic

The report found that during the week of March 16 – which coincided with the time that many Americans started staying home to curb the spread of COVID-19 – there was an extraordinary strain placed on contact centers operated by Fortune 500 banking clients. While the rapid rise in call volumes may not be entirely surprising, a far more alarming trend has been uncovered.

Call spoofing increase

Internal data reveals a massive increase in call spoofing, the primary technique phone criminals use to trick businesses into automatically matching them with customer accounts. While data suggests that consumer calling may ebb and flow weekly, suspicious or high risk calls have increased unabated.

After just 3 weeks, high-risk calls are up 28% on average, outpacing the growth rate of overall call traffic – suggesting that as concerned customers call in waves, hundreds of thousands of potentially fraudulent attacks pummel contact centers in their wake.

To shed light on the potential impact that this influx of criminal activity could have on both the enterprise and the general public, Next Caller combined internal data with a research study administered to over 1,000 Americans.

Amongst the many findings, the study found that 32% of Americans believe that they have already been targeted by some form of fraud related to COVID-19.

Fraudsters stress-testing contact center security systems

With millions awaiting financial relief from the government’s $2 trillion stimulus package, the activity seen to date may be the precursor to an impending tsunami of fraud aimed at stealing money and information from individuals.

Widespread anxiety and confusion only threaten to exacerbate the problem by providing ample cover for fraudsters to stress-test contact center security systems.

“It’s no surprise that fraudsters are exploiting a chaotic circumstance, that’s the playbook,” says Ian Roncoroni, CEO, Next Caller.

“What is particularly dangerous is the timing and the broadening scope of the schemes. People are understandably confused and distracted, and so they may be more likely to let down their guard, especially when attacked from new and different directions. And while businesses are desperate to provide relief, contact centers don’t stand a chance when criminals can successfully pose as customers. It’s the perfect storm for fraud.”

Call traffic and the pandemic: Key findings from the report

  • During the week of March 16-23, two Fortune 500 financial institutions saw call volumes spike over 35%. Telecommunications companies saw similar volume increases.
  • In the most drastic case, during Week 3 one financial institution saw call volumes increase to almost 60% above Pre-COVID-19 levels. Call volume across all clients closed Week 3 up over 15% from traffic prior to Week 1.
  • Weeks 1-3 show a steady rise in high-risk calls disproportionate to the ebb and flow of overall call traffic patterns. After 3 weeks, high-risk calls are up nearly 30% without a decline during that time period.
  • At the same time, nearly 1-in-3 Americans (32%) say that they believe they’ve already been targeted by fraud or scams related to COVID-19.
  • 52% of Americans are more concerned about being victimized by fraud than they normally would be due to COVID-19 related fraud and scams.
  • Nearly 1-in-3 Americans are “not at all confident” that businesses and government institutions are taking the necessary measures.

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