Americans received 26.3 billion spam calls in 2018, roughly 80 times the entire population of the United States. Robocalls and spam have become so pervasive that they’re now the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Communications and Trade Commissions.
Washington residents received more than 206 million spam calls in just the first quarter of 2019, up 54.8 percent from last year. The state is home to Amazon, which finds itself at the center of a new scheme reported by 450 Washington consumers in the first quarter of this year. That’s according to a report from Hiya, a Seattle-based company that provides caller ID and blocking services.
Here’s how it works: Scammers pretending to be customer service agents contact Amazon customers about questionable log-in activity and ask them to call to reset their accounts. Once they get on the phone, the imposter directs the consumer to a fake website and instructs them to input their Amazon log-in credentials. This gives scammers access to consumers’ Amazon accounts and personal information.
Related: T-Mobile teams up with Comcast to rein in robocalls
Schemes like these are so common, it’s becoming difficult for companies like Amazon to run legitimate sweepstakes and promotions. Amazon declined to comment on the Hiya report but pointed to resources for customers who receive suspicious contacts.
The Amazon scam one of several tech-enabled rackets running rampant in Washington state. Another involves scammers spoofing Seattle City Light’s phone number and demanding consumers pay or have their electricity shut off within 30 minutes. City Light saw a surge in this scheme during Seattle’s historic snowstorms last winter. Scammers are also disguising themselves as IRS and Social Security officials, according to Hiya, which analyzes 12 billion calls globally each month.
Hiya’s report on Washington state revealed each resident receives about 10 spam calls per month. Notably, Washington’s biggest and most populous city wasn’t the top target of spammers in Q1. The capital, Olympia, is the top city spammers target in Washington. Seattle ranks tenth.
The ballooning robocall problem is catalyzing telecom companies, regulators, and lawmakers. T-Mobile and Comcast are teaming up to detect robocalls between the two networks. ATT and Comcast have a similar partnership but they haven’t rolled out their new authentication tools yet.
The FCC is considering new rules and imposing fines to try to crack down on the problem. Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation that would improve enforcement policies and require telecom companies to implement new authentication protocols has been introduced in Congress.
Founded in 2016 after spinning out from Whitepages, Hiya is known for its caller ID and spam blocking app — formerly known as Whitepages Caller ID — that helps provide users with more information about incoming calls to their smartphone. It raised an $18 million round in October 2017 and has partnerships with various wireless carriers and manufacturers.