Truecaller Insights: Top 20 Countries Affected by Spam Calls & SMS in 2019

Two years ago, we released our first Truecaller Insights Report to understand the impact of spam calls around the world. With our third edition of the report, we can see a significant shift in which countries that get the most spam calls, and it is clear that this problem is not slowing down, at all.

What is new in this year’s report is that we have taken a look at the trend of spam SMS around the world and been able to pinpoint the top 20 countries that receives the most spam SMS.

Why is this happening?

The phone has almost become an extended part of our body, and we use it to communicate with the rest of the world. The frightening part is we’re always accessible because of it, and this is something that spammers and scammers take advantage of.

In 2019 we have been able to help our users block and identify 26 billion spam calls, which is an increase of 18% compared to last year. Furthermore, we have helped identify 116 billion unknown calls, which is a 56% increase compared to last year.

As revealed in last year’s report, Brazil overtook India as the most spammed country in the world, and this year’s data shows that Brazil is still on top. As a matter of fact, spam calls have been increasing for Brazilians ever since.

What are the trends we are seeing?

  • Spam calls in Latin America have been increasing dramatically over the years. This year, the trend is even more clear. The countries that are seeing the biggest increase of spam calls are in Latin America. 5 out of the top 10 most affected markets are in that region.
  • Peru has seen a significant increase of spam calls. Users are now getting on average 30.9 spam calls a month, making Peru the 2nd most spammed country in the world.
  • The biggest increase of total spam calls comes from Indonesia. Last year Indonesia was ranked 16th, and this year the market jumped up to 3rd place, which makes it the biggest jump we have seen.
  • The country that has witnessed the biggest increase of spam calls in percentage is Lebanon. Users in the market have seen an increase of spam calls going from 2.8 average spam calls/user to 8.6 – that is a 208% increase in a year.
  • Although India has dropped to the 5th place (India used to be the top spammed country in the world,) spam calls have been increasing by 15% over the year. Another devastating fact we found during this year is that 1 out of 3 women in India receive sexual harassment or inappropriate calls and SMS on a regular basis.
  • The U.S. continues to be in the top 10 list of the most spammed countries in the world. The market saw a 7% increase of spam calls compared to last year, where it actually was decreasing. Earlier this year we conducted a study in the U.S. and found that phone scams caused Americans to lose 10.5 billion dollars in 2018, and nearly 1 in every 6 American adults falls victim to scam calls.
  • New markets to enter our list: UAE, Australia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Lebanon, Nigeria and Egypt.
  • Telco/operators are still the biggest spammers in the world, and scam calls are on the rise globally.
  • Who are the top 5 markets to receive the most scam calls in the world? Malaysia (63%), Australia (60%), Lebanon (49%), Canada (48%), South Africa (39%).

Who receives the most spam SMS in the world?

Our data shows that the top countries that receives the most spam SMS are in the emerging markets. The top three markets that are affected are in the African continent. Ethiopians receives the most spam SMS in the world, with the average of 119 spam SMS on a monthly basis.

In total Truecaller helped identify 8.6 billion spam SMS globally. 

Who are the top spam callers?

1. Brazil:

As spam calls continue to increase in Brazil, we took a deeper look at who the top spammers are in the country.

Almost every other spam call in Brazil is being made from the operators and Internet service providers. In the past 12 months, calls from the operators have increased from 32% to 48%. These calls are typically seeking to provide special offers and upselling data plans amongst other services.

Scam calls continue to be a big problem in Brazil. Two years ago, only 1% of all the top spammers were scam related, last year it went up to 20% – and this year it is up to 26%. One of the most common scams is the one ring scam or Wangiri scam. An unknown number (usually an international number) gives you a missed call and when you call back you are charged a hefty fee for calling that number. Another common scam call is the fake kidnap call where someone calls and pretends they will kidnap/have kidnapped someone from your family, and want you to buy them airtime or wire money.

In 2019, calls from financial service (13%) have been making a lot of calls to our users trying to upsell credit cards and loans.

2. Peru:

One of the more interesting findings in this year’s report is that Peru has second highest percentage of spam calls in the world. 

As the graph shows, 1 in every 3 spam call in Peru is made by financial services that are looking to upsell credit cards and loans. A big chunk of the top spam calls that are terrorizing our users are from operators (24%) and outsourced telemarketing firms (26%) that promotes various offerings. Scam calls are also a big issue in Peru, where 1 out of 10 calls are scam related.

3. Indonesia:

Not only does Indonesia continue to be the most spammed market in the South East Asia region, it has become the 3rd most spammed country in the world. Users are now receiving 27.9 spam calls per month.

Calls from banks, financial services and insurance brokers continue to be the top spammers in Indonesia.

The most alarming trend is that scam calls has more than doubled in the past year – going from 10% to 21%. In the recent months there has been a lot of unrest in the country, and we have received a lot of feedback from our users that scammers use this opportunity to scam people.

One of the more common scams is the ‘one ring scam or Wangiri scam’. Another scam that has been going on lately is the fake hospital/injury call where someone would call and tell you that a family member or a friend is hospitalized and need immediate treatment, and you need to send them money in order for them to treat the patient.

4. Mexico:

Similar to Peru, Mexico receives many calls from financial services (41%.) The biggest trend we see this year is that calls being made from debt collectors, both authentic and fake, have seen a massive increase (31%). Compared to last year, these types of calls were not in the top spam list.

Scam related calls continue to be a big problem in Mexico (10%.) There are many prisons in Mexico that are well known in making a lot of fake kidnap calls to people.

5. India:

In the past 2 years, India has dropped from being the country to receive the most spam calls in the world to the 5th position. But this does not mean spam calls are slowing down. On the contrary! Spam calls have been increasing with 15% in 2019.

Operators are well known to be vicious when it comes to spamming their customers. However, with the rise of mobile payments and a growing middle class in India, we have seen banks, fin-tech companies, and outsourced telemarketing services emerging as big spammers.

6. South Africa:

Scam calls continues to be a big threat for consumers in South Africa (39%). The most common scams are:

  • Tech support fraud, where someone pretends to call from your bank or a company saying that your account has been hijacked and needs your help to take control of it.
  • One ring scam, an unknown number (usually an international number) gives you a missed call and when you call them back you get charged a hefty fee for calling to that number.
  • Job offer scam, someone pretends to be a headhunter calling you to offer you a job but you need to pay a fee in order to get the job.

Also, insurance related calls have seen a big uptake in the country. Lately, there has been complaints about insurance companies calling people to upsell car insurance – or scammers calling pretending that your car has been towed away and that you need to pay a fee to get it back.

7. Chile:

Although Chile has seen a marginal decrease of spam calls over the past 12 months, it continues to be one of the most spammed countries in the world.

Debt collectors have been pestering consumers in Chile. A significant increase of these type of calls have grown from 25% to 72% in just a year.

8. U.S.:

Robocalls are talked about all over the U.S., and it’s no wonder. Apart from the media reporting and people complaining about this issue, we have seen a clear trend in our own data showing robocalls increasing dramatically. Comparing with last year, the number of robocalls has increased from 7% to a staggering 35% – which means that more than every third spam call a user gets is a robocall.

Earlier this year we also found that 43 million Americans were scammed over the phone – and 10.5 billion USD was lost to scammers in 2018. Read more here: https://truecaller.blog/2019/04/17/truecaller-insights-2019-us-spam-phone-scam-report/. Our data further shows that close to every third spam (32%) call you get is of fraudulent nature in the U.S.

9. Russia:

Russia has moved up from the 17th most spammed country in the world to 9th place this year. The biggest spammers in Russia are from banks and financial services.

Another big trend is scam calls are a big portion of all the top spam calls in Russia. We have seen a pattern that scams calls have been tagged as companies/individuals pretending to call from banks trying to lure them to share sensitive information.

10. Colombia:

Today, Colombia is the tenth most spammed country in the world. The majority of spam calls come from operators (39%) and financial services (29%,) followed by a big chunk of scam calls (22%.) In our data, we can see many of these fraudulent calls are ‘insurance related’ – meaning someone pretending to be from an insurance company and wanting to sign you up for something and charge you.

Also, Bogota has been ranked as the world’s worst city for sexual harassment (source: Plan International) – and during the past two years we have been receiving a lot of feedback from women saying that harassment calls has worsened in the country.

11. Canada:

Ever since we started to track the spam behavior in Canada, scam calls have been skyrocketing. Fake debt collector calls are one lethal scam that has hit our users.

We have also seen a lot of market research and political calls being made to people.

12. UAE:

The UAE has surfaced as another top spamming country in the past 12 months. The dominating spammer in the region are the operators who often are looking to upsell plans.

We have also seen that there has been a lot of fraudulent calls that is related to visa scams. Basically, what this entails is that these scammers pretend to give people a visa (specifically to Canada) and want money in return.

13. Italy:

Telemarketing calls from energy and television providers (47%) continues to be the biggest spammers in Italy. The operators also account for a big portion of the spammers.

In the past 12 months, scam calls seem to have increased from 9% to 16%. Last year there were a lot of reporting that scammers were targeting customers of TIM, Wind Tre, and Vodafone. The scammers simply call up people with a very well thought out script to lure their victim to say ‘yes’ to their questions, which is later being cut out to be pasted to a different agreement where they seem to agree to certain premium services

14. Australia:

Australia has emerged as one of the most spam affected countries in the world. As the graph indicates, scam calls are the biggest spammers in Australia. The country has witnessed a huge rise of international calls hitting people’s phone. One of the most common scam calls are:

  • One ring scam’ where someone gives you a missed call (often from an international number) and when you call back you will get charged a hefty sum.
  • Visa scam’ where someone pretend to offer you an opportunity to get a visa in Australia.
  • Worker compensation’ fraud.

Our data also shows that there has been an increase of telemarketing calls from ‘green energy’ companies.

15. Sri Lanka:

Spam calls from operators continues to be the dominating spammer in Sri Lanka. Two years ago, we look at the trends of top spammers in the market, and since, spam calls from the operators has increased from 72% to 81%.

The study can be found here: https://truecaller.blog/2017/12/14/top-spammers-in-sri-lanka-are-telecom-operators-in-2017/

16. Israel

For the second consecutive year, Israel is in the top 20 most spammed countries in the world. Israel is the only country where we see that Political calls are the biggest spammer. Our data shows that the people are getting a lot of donation calls from various politicians, and sometimes these calls can even be of fraudulent nature.

17. Lebanon:

This year spam calls have increased by 208% in Lebanon, which makes it the country that has seen the biggest increase of spam calls this year (for the top 20 countries).

Almost every other call people receive in Lebanon that is spam related, is a potential scam call. We can see in our data that there has been a lot of fraudulent calls on ‘visa scams’ to cheat people for visa to Canada.

18: Nigeria:

Last year Nigeria fell off from the list, but this year Nigeria has once again emerged as a top spamming country in the world.

Operators continue to be the top spammer in this country, and has grown from 61% to 85% in the past two years (compared to the report from 2017).

19: Malaysia:

Analyzing this year’s data, we can see that Malaysia is the market that receives the biggest percentage of scam calls in the world.

Today, 63% of the top spam calls in Malaysia are of fraudulent nature. Fake insurance and debt collecting calls are the normal scam calls. ‘Astro’ and ‘Macau’ scam has been flooding the market in the recent year. Lately, there has been scammers pretending to be calling from local post delivery services that a package is stuck somewhere and that they need you to pay before they can release it.

Over the past 12 months Malaysia has seen a 24% increase of spam calls, going from 6.7 spam calls/month to 8.3.

20: Egypt:

Egypt used to be in the top 10 list of the most spammed countries in the world (2017), however, last year it dropped out of the top 20 list, it’s back in 2019.

The biggest spammers in Egypt are the operators and telecom service providers looking to upsell various offers and balance reminders. Scam calls is also a common thing in Egypt, where almost a quarter of all spam calls are scam related.

Notes & Methodology:

The data in this article was aggregated anonymously from incoming calls that either has been marked as spam by users – or automatically been flagged by Truecaller during the period of January 1st, 2019 to October 30th, 2019 to understand the monthly average spam rate. During this period of time we helped our users identify 116 billion calls, helped identify 8.6 billion spam SMS globally. 

Our previous study from 2018 can be found here; and the 2017 report can be found here.

The data in this article was aggregated anonymously from incoming calls that were either marked as spam by users – or automatically flagged by Truecaller during the period of January 1st, 2018 to October 30th, 2019 to understand the monthly average spam rate. During this period of time, we helped our users identify 116 billion calls and 8.6 billion spam SMS globally. 

Previous reports from 2018 can be found here while the 2017 report can be found here.

Graphics can be found here.

For more stats and how Truecaller users communicated in 2019 please visit our Year in Calling site.

Category Key:

Nuisance: Due to this being a broad spectrum of calls, it is generally calls that is unwanted, disturbance for users, harassment, pranks.

Telemarketing: Promotional calls from companies, surveys, political calls, new client outreach for services, subscriptions, etc.

Robo-calls: Robo-calls are automated calls that are placed to people with a pre-recorded message. Some of these calls can sound like real people talking, and when you reply to their queries, they can be very sophisticated and use voice recognition technology to answer and ask follow-up questions.

Operator: Telecom companies upselling data plans, promotions, etc.

Financial service: Banks, credit unions, credit card companies etc.

Scam: Fraud attempts, money swindling, unknown links, etc.

Insurance: Companies that specialize in selling different types of insurances.

Debt collection: Organizations that specialize in payments of debts owed by individuals or businesses, bounty hunters.

Political: Campaign calls to secure votes for parties, robocalls.

Health: Hospitals, private practices.