Friday, June 14, 2024
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How Scam Calls and Messages Took Over Our Everyday Lives

Mr. Doctorow noted that, just as the internet has made routine tasks less burdensome, it has also made scams much easier to pull off. Picture an old-school boiler room in which fast-talking con artists place hundreds of phone calls in an effort to fleece strangers out of their savings, he said. Now fast forward to 2024, when scammers can send out millions of phishing texts and emails with the help of bots.

“If you can automate parts of it,” Mr. Doctorow said, “you can cast a much wider net.”

Text scams tricked Americans out of $300 million in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission reported. That same year, Americans received 225 billion spam texts, a 157 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report by Robokiller, a company that sells a spam-blocker app.

As digitally savvy and cautious as he is, Mr. Doctorow is not immune to phishing.

In December, while vacationing with his family in New Orleans, he got a call from his bank asking if had spent $1,000 at an Apple store in New York. In fact, the caller was a scammer who had gotten hold of Mr. Doctorow’s phone number and the name of his credit union — perhaps from one of the many data brokers that collect personal information and sell it to third parties — and then used spoofing software to appear as his bank on his caller ID.

During the call, Mr. Doctorow gave out the last seven digits of his debit card number — enough information for the scammer to run up charges on his account.

Sophisticated tech makes this kind of deception possible. But Mr. Doctorow argued that, thanks to outsourcing and automation, the typical communication sent by the customer service departments of many large companies has become “indistinguishable from a phishing scam.”

The prevalence of online deceptions can also add a bit of unwanted drama to mundane tasks. Recently, Ms. Rutledge, the psychologist, thought she was being scammed when she received a letter from a government office on “the crappiest letterhead I’ve ever seen.”

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