Mobile scammers becoming more effective, First Orion survey finds

More than 4 percent of U.S. mobile users said they gave away credit card information to a scammer over their phones, twice as many as reported doing so last year, according to a new survey from First Orion. And 2.4 percent said they disclosed their social security numbers, up from 1 percent last year.

First Orion’s announcement didn’t outline the survey’s methodology, and the company clearly has a vested interest in promoting the dangers of scammers who target consumers on their mobile phones: It operates PrivacyStar, an app that uses the company’s database to identify callers and robocalls, inform recipients of why they meet be calling, and provides a way for users to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

But the news underscores a problem that has become big enough to attract the attention of federal regulators.

PrivacyStar, which is First Orion’s flagship app, is available on the web and through apps for Android and iOS, and carriers such as MetroPCS offer it under different brands.

First Orion surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults and said nearly 3 percent of those polled received 10 or more scam calls in the last month, and nearly 5 percent of those changed their phone numbers to avoid unwanted calls. Half of respondents said carriers should be responsible for protecting them from scams, and two-thirds said they would choose an operator that automatically blocked unwanted calls from reaching them over a carrier that didn’t offer such a service.

“A growing number of people are being harassed by scams,” said Jeff Stalnaker, president of First Onion. “This problem is not going away; it’s only getting worse.”

First Orion was founded in 2008 to help both wireless and fixed-line operators identify and block unwanted calls. Like some others in the space, it offers a network-based solution that act before calls actually reach the handset. And like Hiya, which also offers a network-based caller ID and call-blocking service, First Orion maintains its own database, enabling the company to identify callers based on reports from PrivacyStar users.

The company’s survey results come as the market for mobile caller ID and call-blocking is beginning to heat up. Like its competitors, First Orion is positioning its solution as a potential way for the U.S. mobile industry to avoid federal regulations such as the proposed ROBOCOP Act, which would require telecoms to offer free, optional robocall-blocking technology to their customers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler backed the Act in July, sending letters to the CEOs of AT&T, Verizon and other major carriers calling on them to offer call-blacking services to customers at no charge.

“My perspective is that the industry has been shaken with the chairman’s letter saying he’s no longer going to wait and hope somebody is working on this; he’s going to push the pressure,” Stalnaker said. “I think the FCC starting it and pushing it was definitely needed in the industry. There’s been too much talk about doing something and not enough doing.”

For more:
- see First Orion’s press release

Related articles:
Hiya launches network-level caller ID and call-blocking offering
T-Mobile to launch caller ID service from Cequint