Telecommunications fraud costs roughly more than €29 billion per year and is becoming a "low-risk alternative to traditional financial crime," according to new research released this week.
Europol and cybersecurity firm Trend Micro partnered to produce the Cyber-Telecom Crime Report 2019, which found that increased availability of hacking equipment and the reduced cost of schemes are causing telecommunications fraud to increase.
"At its heart, this fraud is the abuse of telecommunications products (mainly telephones and mobile phones) or services with the intention of illegally acquiring money from a communication service provider or its customers," Europol said in a press release on the report. "The main goal of criminals is to gain access to customers' or carriers' accounts, where debt can be incurred in the criminal's favor."
While telecommunications fraud is not new, it does pose new challenges for the European Union to address and is another example of criminals "hacking the system" to "abuse legitimate enterprises for criminal gain," said Steven Wilson, head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre, in a statement.
The most common types of telecommunications fraud that Europol and Trend Micro identified are vishing calls, phone scams where fraudsters convince targets to share personal information or transfer money to them; one (ring) and cut, also known as Wangiri where targets are tricked into calling premium rate numbers; and International Revenue Sharing Fraud, where fraudsters take advantage of trust between telecommunications operators to transfer funds between them.
To address the rising risk of telecommunications fraud, Europol created the EC3 CyTel working group of more than 70 stakeholders from law enforcement and industry to share information and techniques to combat fraud.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also highlighted the problem of telecommunications fraud, especially robocalling and spoofing scams.
"Spoofing can cause your phone's caller ID to display numbers that appear to be from your local area code or other numbers that look familiar and trustworthy to you, such as a call from a neighbor, a company you do business with, or a government agency," according to a post by the FCC's Patrick Webre, chief of consumer and governmental affairs bureau. "Spoofing makes it easier for scammers to dupe unsuspecting consumers into answer the phone and, in the worst cases, giving away valuable personal information, which can then be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally."
The commission has encouraged telecommunications providers to take steps to prevent these scams, but it has come under scrutiny for not requiring action. One major critic, comedian John Oliver, actually took the step of creating a robocall campaign targeting FCC commissioners to take action.