For nearly 15 years, identity theft has ranked as the number one crime and consumer fear in the United States, claiming an average of more than a million victims and at a cost of more than a billion dollars every single month.

Robocalls, however, could be the new perpetrator of fraud, stealing even more money from consumers. Robocalls used to be just plain irritating, but the new fear is that robocalls will soon eclipse identity theft as the new frontier in fraud.

The rise in calls

Last year alone, American consumers received nearly 98 million robocalls each day, and victims of phone fraud lost close to $10 billion in just 12 months according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Unlike identity theft, which can often be blocked or detected by things like credit freezes and fraud alerts, once a caller has a victim on the line the only defense left is the vigilance of the victim, and experienced cyber crooks can be very hard to spot and stop.

Unlike victims of identity theft, who usually suffer zero financial losses because of zero liability policies, victims of phone fraud resulting from robocalls may be on the hook for all the losses.

There’s no reason to believe that phone-fraud losses that result from robocalls won’t exceed losses to identity theft if they haven’t ready. It’s a crime that’s easy and cheap to commit combined with a huge potential payout and little risk of being caught. That offers an irresistible recipe to a new generation of fraudsters who know that as soon as they can get you on the phone, your money’s almost as good as gone.

The timing isn’t helping. As new credit-freeze laws come into effect nationwide at the end of September of this year, criminals will just switch tactics, and instead of going through the credit bureaus, they’ll go directly to the victims.

How to defend yourself

The best defense of all is to simply not pick up the phone no matter how genuine call appears to be. Be wary of “neighborhood spoofing” — calls that appear to come from your local area code. Callers can easily spoof your local area code.

If you do pick up, don’t press any keys and don’t engage with the caller. Just like responding to spam, engaging only brings you one step closer to the trap. Speak to everyone in your family about what robocalls are and about the importance of being vigilant.

Talk to your carrier about what robocall-blocking services they offer. If your carrier insists on charging you extra to block calls, just make sure you’re satisfied that you’re getting what you pay for.

Consider downloading one of the growing number of apps designed to prevent robocalls, but do your homework first, and make sure you’re not agreeing to hand over your very personal information in exchange for their service.

Report robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP. They can’t solve the problem yet, but you might be able to help them identify the source of the unwanted calls.