How scam calls and texts have taken over our daily lives

Doctorow noted that just as the Internet has made routine tasks less burdensome, it has also made scams much easier to pull off. Imagine an old-fashioned boiler room where fast-talking scammers make hundreds of phone calls in an attempt to cheat strangers out of their savings, he said. Now fast forward to 2024, when scammers will be able to send millions of phishing messages and emails with the help of bots.

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

SMS scams netted Americans $300 million in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission reported. In the same year, Americans received 225 billion spam messages, a 157% increase from the previous year, according to a report from Robokiller, a company that sells a spam-blocking app.

While digitally savvy and cautious, Doctorow is not immune to phishing.

In December, while on a family vacation in New Orleans, he received a call from his bank asking if he 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 a spoofing software. to appear as his bank on his caller ID.

During the call, Mr. Doctorow provided the last seven digits of his debit card number — enough information for the scammer to charge his account.

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

The prevalence of online deception can also add some unwanted drama to mundane activities. Recently, Mrs. Rutledge, the psychologist, thought she had been scammed when she received a letter from a government office on “the filthiest letterhead she has ever seen.”

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