If You Think Phone Spam Is Bad in the US, Try Picking Up in Argentina

More than one out of every three calls to Americans from numbers not in their contacts lists were spam in the fourth quarter of last year—and we can take some relative pride in that, because many other countries have a much bigger phone-spam problem.

That not-great, not-terrible 34.9% spam-call figure comes from a report released Thursday(Opens in a new window) by Hiya(Opens in a new window), a Seattle firm that provides call-screening services to telecom firms and telecom consumers. Its apps tracked a total of 7.5 billion spam calls worldwide in Q4, with the peak week being Oct. 17-22 when it flagged 655 million spam calls. 

The good news, such as it is, for Americans is that almost of our spam calls fall into the “nuisance” category, with outright fraud representing only 0.9% of all calls from non-contact numbers. And Hiya observed a more than 50% decline in what may be the most loathed sort of spam call, the extended-auto-warranty robocall.

Hiya’s report credits regulatory moves by the Federal Communications Commission, which last year took such actions as proposing a $300 million fine against one warranty-robocall scammer and ordering voice providers to stop accepting traffic from a telecom provider it found to be abetting these robocalls. 

With car-warranty spammers getting driven to the junkyard, Hiya found that healthcare scams now represent the top type of fraud call in the US.

“Scammers may be selling a bogus healthcare policy or medical device, or they may be trying to obtain a person’s Medicare number to bill the government for procedures that never happened,” the report notes. “Medicare scams increased late in 2022 during the open enrollment period.”

Don’t Call for Me, Argentina

Other countries have a much worse problem. The report shows Argentina as having the worst spam- and fraud-call rates of any country in the Americas, Europe, or Asia (it does not cover Africa): 52% and 22%, respectively, of calls from non-contact numbers. 

The second-worst country to answer a random call would be Indonesia, which has a 51.5% spam-call rate. Hong Kong and Chile are tied for third with a 48% rate. As for fraud calls, Mexico had the second worst figure with a 16% rate, followed by the UK with a 13% rate.

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If, however, you want to be able to answer an unknown call with minimum anxiety, Ireland has the lowest spam call rate, just 4.8%. The Czech Republic has the lowest fraud call rate at 0.23%.

A section in the report about countermeasures against phone spam does not suggest moving to Dublin or Prague but does advise carriers to adopt Hiya’s suite of call-screening services. Some have or have adopted a competitor’s service (for example, T-Mobile built its spam protection on PrivacyStar’s system after AT&T picked up on Hiya’s services), and Google’s Android also includes built-in spam-call screening

Considering how many of the scams noted in the report involve fraudsters impersonating such name-brand organizations as Amazon and various government agencies, those organizations and wireless carriers might also want to consider one remedy unmentioned in the report: verified-call systems(Opens in a new window) from such firms as Twilio(Opens in a new window), First Orion(Opens in a new window), and Hiya(Opens in a new window) itself that label the number as legitimate on the incoming-call screen, in some cases with the company or agency’s logo.

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