In the News

The nonstop scam economy is costing us more than just money

Jul 13, 2022 Washington Post

Relentless waves of sophisticated phone and online scams are impacting people’s mental health

Pamela McCarroll doesn’t have the luxury of ignoring phone calls from unknown numbers.

The 30-year old is undergoing treatment for long-term colon cancer in Fairfax County, Va., and never knows whether it could be a doctor, a hospital with test results, or someone trying to schedule an appointment.

Unfortunately, that means she’s fielding up to 20 spam phone calls every day on her mobile phone, adding to her already sky-high levels of stress. Since her diagnosis in August 2019, the number of scam attempts has shot up while the topics have gotten strangely specific, including Medicare or senior benefits.

“I’ve gotten some calls about funeral insurance. That kind of bums me out,” McCarroll says. “I’ve got cancer, but you don’t have to rub it in.”

We’re living in an era of constant scams. The technology and techniques behind them have improved, while attempts to crack down have largely stalled. For the millions of people in the United States dealing with scam attempts like McCarroll, there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful relief in sight.

We mostly think about scam calls and texts in terms of their financial costs to the people who fall for them. Consumers reported $5.8 billion in fraud to the Federal Trade Commission last year, a 70 percent increase from 2020. Falling for or engaging with one scam can lead to an increase in attempts. According to RoboKiller, an app for screening robocalls on phones, an average smartphone owner in the United States will get an estimated 42 spam texts and 28 spam calls a month. Once a number or email address spreads into more spammer databases, it can be bought and sold by the companies involved in the booming scam industry…