In his most recent blog, my colleague Paul Florack discussed how the robocalling industry fared in the last year. 2020 was certainly filled with the unexpected, and while 2021 looks poised to bring relief in the form of vaccines, it will still bring its share of uncertainty, misinformation and chaos – all of which scammers seize to launch robocalls and robotexts designed to gain access to unsuspecting citizens’ money, personal information and more.

Here are a few robocall and robotext developments we expect to see play out in 2021:

Increased Traction from the TRACED Act

Due to the economic strain of COVID-19, TRACED Act STIR/SHAKEN implementation requirements were loosened for smaller voice service providers that were granted a two-year extension. While the expected relief from the TRACED Act has not yet fully materialized, the positive effects of the law should become more tangible in 2021, especially given the STIR/SHAKEN implementation deadline in June.

The TRACED Act will also ensure that the FCC, FTC and law enforcement officials can quickly combat scammers and reduce fraudulent schemes which may be carried out by robocallers in 2021. We began to see this in 2020 as state attorneys general around the country grew more aggressive in the fight against robocalls. For example, the Michigan Attorney General’s work to combat voter suppression robocalls brought felony charges against two political operatives in an investigation.

Adoption of Branded Calling and Call Legitimacy Solutions

Because consumers are more wary to answer calls from unknown numbers, contact tracers found mixed success last year getting in contact with individuals who may have been exposed to the virus – which may have led to unquantifiable numbers of additional cases and unnecessary exposures.

This issue exposes the need for branded calling solutions, which are beginning to be utilized by a number of public health agencies, where the incoming call screens display a valid name, logo or message indicating that the call is from a legitimate public health agency with the hopes of increasing pickup rates.

More Sophisticated (and Potentially Convincing) Phone Scams

As we saw with COVID-19 in 2020, scammers took into account what may convince call recipients to play along by picking topical and current news items in order to extract sensitive information.

Targeting individuals for high-reward scams may increase the use of convincing AI-based deep-fake technology that attempts to imitate a call recipient’s family, friends, coworkers and others in an effort to con victims out of money and/or personal information.

Your Phone will Buzz More than it Rings

Robotexts have already become a favorite method for scammers to grab consumers’ attention and wreak havoc on the general public. 2020 has shown that bad actors are not solely extorting information from consumers, but also sowing confusion among the masses. In 2021, these disinformation campaigns might play out in the form of scammers telling consumers not to take the COVID vaccine or other false information that could sow additional confusion to the public.

Tier-2 and Tier-3 Carriers will Remain Scammers’ Favorite Route

Unfortunately, due to the STIR/SHAKEN implementation extension granted to smaller carriers, scammers still have viable routes to place negative calls without detection. In fact, more than 90 percent of scam and fraudulent calls originate from numbers not owned by Tier-1 carriers. There is no reason to believe this will cease until small carriers adopt these authentication frameworks and deploy robocall mitigation solutions.

COVID-19 rocked the foundation of how we lived, worked and learned in 2020, but a new year brings new possibilities. Scammers will continue to seize on confusion caused by COVID and its repercussions to separate unsuspecting consumers from their money or personal information and use it for personal gain. By educating themselves on who to trust over the phone and the tactics scammers use, consumers can fortify their defenses against nefarious robocallers and avoid falling victim to their schemes in the new year.

Bill Versen is TNS’ Chief Product Officer and leads the organization’s product development, product management and marketing functions. As President of its Communications Market business, he is also responsible for the sales and go-to-market strategy for TNS’ extensive telecommunication solutions portfolio.