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Research Shows When Phone Scammers Are Most Likely to Succeed

People tend to give information late in the day and later in the week

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Alan Budman / Alamy Stock Photo

Have you ever gotten a call claiming to be from a utility saying that they need your Social Security number to avoid a power shutdown? Or from someone who says he’s with a technology company asking for passwords so a virus can be rooted out of your computer? Many of us have been tricked into revealing information needed to steal an identity or infiltrate a computer. A new study shows that people are significantly more vulnerable to these scam calls on certain days and at certain hours. It also reveals that more than half of the people who answer these calls will hand over compromising information — especially if the caller is a woman.

The later the call occurred, the more likely people were to give away private information. 

Chris Hadnagy, CEO of Social-Engineer LLC, and his team called over 20,000 employees of their client companies — posing as an HR representative, as someone involved in a company project or even as a reporter — and asked for secure information. Of the 5,690 spoof calls that they completed, 53 percent of the respondents handed over personal information such as a Social Security number or a computer password.

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But the success rate for scamming people varied significantly, depending on when the calls were placed. Monday was the hardest day by far to get someone to fall for a phone scam, with only 29 percent of people taking the bait. By Tuesday, more than twice as many people succumbed. Successful scams peaked on Friday with 65 percent of those who answered giving away secure data. These patterns reflect human nature, Hadnagy says.

“On Monday morning, you are back from the weekend, ready to take on the world. It’s hard to trick people in that state of mind,” he says. More fake calls succeeded later in the day — with 2 in 3 respondents being duped around 5 p.m.

The study also found that women were better than men at scamming over the phone. “We don’t really know why, but one possibility is people don’t expect women to be the scammers,” Hadnagy says. Criminals have figured this out. “You see tons of IRS and tech-support scammers using women to do the calling. That’s not an accident.” 

Doug Shadel, director of AARP’s Washington state office, writes the "Outsmart Fraud" column for AARP The Magazine.

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