With people worldwide stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of scam calls and text messages has rocketed to new heights, growing 190 percent worldwide last year from 2019, Gogolook said earlier this month.
The Taiwanese firm provides the caller identification app Whoscall, which identifies incoming calls and text messages for more than 80 million users in 31 countries.
Based on the number of queries on its database of 1.6 billion telephone numbers, Gogolook said that it blocked more than 280 million scam calls and texts last year, up 190 percent year-on-year, a record since the app was launched in 2010.
Photo: Huang Ching-chun, Taipei Times
Taiwanese were at particular risk, receiving more than 14 million scam calls and texts last year, up 488 percent from 2019, the company said.
Texts made up 80 percent of the total, showing that scammers are rapidly shifting their focus to text messages, as they are relatively cheap and more likely to reach recipients, it said.
Scam texts often include links to platforms that mimic social media or banking platforms, intended to trick people into entering sensitive information, such as account numbers and passwords, it said.
Clicking on a suspicious link could infect a device with a Trojan virus, which might hijack the device to send scam messages, it added.
The most commonly received scam texts were notifications for package deliveries, as well as banking verification messages, the company said.
To avoid detection, scam rings commonly set up servers in areas where telecom regulations are more relaxed, said Lee Yan-ju (李彥儒), who is in charge of software and artificial intelligence research and development for Whoscall.
Scammers also use Internet call services to disguise their numbers as local and make them more difficult to track, Lee said, adding that Taiwanese regulations restrict this method.
In Taiwan, scam calls or texts from abroad always display a country code beginning with a plus sign, he said, advising people to always be cautious of such numbers.
The most commonly blocked numbers last year started with +86 (for China, 137,289 times), followed by +44 (the UK, 87,543 times) and +22 (Belgium, 34,066 times), Lee said.
The most common dangerous links led to Web sites with URLs ending in .duckdns.org, .xyz and .club, he added.
In other news, security software company Trend Micro last week warned the public to avoid responding to SMS messages or private messages in messaging software claiming to be from their bank, or to click on any links in such messages.
Reports of phishing attempts have been on the rise, with numerous users reporting messages claiming that there are problems with their bank account, and telling them to submit personal information to verify their identity and prevent their accounts being frozen, the company said.
“When you click the link, it asks you to enter your bank account number, password and ID card number. When you click ‘submit,’ there is no response,” it said, adding that the form sends your personal information to whoever is running the phishing scam.
If the scammers obtain online banking information, they might be able to transfer money to their account, Trend Micro said.
A bank would not send a message to customer asking them to click a link and enter personal information, it said, adding that those with doubts could contact their bank’s customer service center by telephone, or visit a branch to confirm the message’s contents.
“It’s also always a good idea to check the URL and see if it looks normal. Another option is to join the National Police Agency’s anti-fraud Line group, or install security software,” Trend Micro said.
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