Like malware authors, phone scammers change their tactics and lures often, but for the most part, they play the hits. And the number one song so far this year has been the Google/Yahoo/Bing listing scam that accounted for 22 percent of robocalls in January.
The new data from Pindrop Labs shows that scammers are using this scam to prey on the desire of small business owners to raise the profile of their businesses. The scam is a simple one and involves a robocall that supposedly comes from “your local Google specialist”, who is nice enough to offer the recipient a listing on the first page of Google’s search results. That’s some valuable real estate and it probably isn’t something that Google’s ad sales team has to make cold calls to sell.
Collected from a network of honeypot phone numbers controlled by Pindrop Labs, the data reveals that the Google listing scam, which first emerged in 2014, has increased in popularity among phone scammers in the year-plus since it emerged. In 2015, the scam accounted for about 4.4 percent of robocalls hitting the phoneypot numbers. If someone answers one of the calls, the scammer tries to pressure him into giving up a credit card number to cover some taxes or other phantom costs.
Here’s what a sample script for one of these calls looks like:
“Hi! This is Sharon, your local Google specialist. We have a front page position available for business like yours and can guarantee front page placement with unlimited clicks twenty four hours a day. Press the one key right now to see if you qualify and are interested in receiving calls from customers locally searching for your type of business. Please press one now or press the two key to be removed thank you.”
Although the Google listing scam is a big percentage of the robocalls hitting the phoneypot numbers, Pindrop Labs researchers looked at a sample of more than 500 of these calls and found that they could be linked to about 75 individual callers.
In addition to the Google listing, scammers also used the Obamacare enrollment deadline at the end of January as leverage for calls trying to pressure people into surrendering personal information, which is then used in identity theft schemes. Those calls comprised 8.8 percent of scam calls in January.
Image from Flickr stream of Rob Brewer.