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Ofcom report reveals alarming uptick in smishing attacks

Text-based scams now more common than phone calls among young adults

Three quarters (75%) of adults under the age of 35 have received text scams in the last three months, as threat actors look for new methods to target victims.

This comes as more traditional forms of phone scams, such as phone calls containing a recorded voice messages or live calls, are on the decline – having been received by only 39% and 32% of 16 to 34-year olds, respectively, according to new findings from Ofcom.

The trend is visible across all age groups except for adults over the age of 75, out of which only 55% admitted to having been the target of a ‘smishing’ attempt, a common example of such being a fake text message from the Royal Mail. In the same age-group, 57% said they had received a live voice call from scammers, a popular example of such being a phone call about supposed issues with the potential victim’s internet service.

Overall, 71% of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed by Ofcom had received a scam text message in the last three months, while 44% received a phone call with a recorded messages, and 41% were a target of a live phone call from scammers.

Based on the findings, the regulator estimates that 44.6 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts over the summer of 2021.

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Ofcom’s Scams Survey 2021 is the first of its kind that compares the prevalence of scam phone calls to fraudulent text messages, following previous research from enterprise security provider Proofpoint that found ‘smishing’ attempts had increased 700% in the first six months of 2021.

Ofcom's Networks and Communications group director Lindsey Fussell said that scammers’ tactics were “becoming increasingly sophisticated”, adding that “phone and text scams can cause huge distress and financial harm” to the victims.

Fussell urged the public to stay alert to any unsolicited phone calls and forward any scam messages to the authorities:

“Put the phone down if you have any suspicion that it is a scam call, and don’t click on any links in text messages you’re unsure about. Report texts to 7726 and scam calls to Action Fraud or Police Scotland,” she said.

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