11 Jun 2021

Inundated with Robocalls? Relief Is on the Way

WAMS, Inc.News  

The number of illegal robocalls has risen dramatically in 2021. Fortunately, the TRACED Act is expected to provide relief. Learn about this legislation and discover what you can do until its effect is fully felt.

If it seems like you have been receiving more unwanted robocalls than usual, it is not your imagination. In May 2021, there were 4 billion robocalls in the United States — a 33% increase over the 3 billion robocalls sent in May 2020. While some automated calls are desirable (e.g., pharmacy calls indicating your prescription is ready for pickup), robocalls sent to you without your consent are not only annoying but also illegal.

Auto dialers and other technologies make it easy and inexpensive for nefarious individuals to make robocalls on a massive scale. Equally troublesome is the ease in which these robocallers can spoof caller IDs. They change the caller ID so that it displays a well-known company name, a local telephone number, or some other text to convince people that the call is legitimate. If the robocallers succeed in tricking people into answering the phone or returning the call, they often conduct voice phishing (vishing) attacks. In these types of attacks, they typically try to get victims to provide sensitive information (e.g., social security number) or perform an action (e.g., wire them money).

Fortunately, US lawmakers passed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act in 2019. Besides giving the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more power to levy penalties against illegal robocallers, the TRACED Act requires voice service providers to use the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication system to identify spoofed caller IDs. STIR/SHAKEN — short for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs — makes it more difficult for robocallers to trick people into answering their phones or returning calls, which will reduce the number of robocall victims. The caller ID authentication system also makes it easier for law enforcement to find and eliminate the source of illegal robocalls, which will reduce the number of robocalls.


Verifying Caller IDs with STIR/SHAKEN

The STIR/SHAKEN authentication system verifies that a call is coming from the number displayed on the caller ID. If that is not the case, the voice service provider can either block the call or add a flag such as “Potential spam” or “Scam likely” to the caller ID. By law, providers cannot charge extra for this authentication service and it must be enabled by default.

The STIR/SHAKEN authentication system works only in Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as those used to provide mobile and Voice over IP (VoIP) phone services. Providers have until June 30, 2021, to implement STIR/SHAKEN authentication in the IP portions of their networks. Some exceptions exist. For example, providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines have until June 30, 2023, to implement it.

There are different requirements for voice service providers with non-IP networks, such as networks used to provide landline phone services. These providers must either:

  • Upgrade their networks to IP and implement STIR/SHAKEN.
  • Participate in the development of a call authentication standard for non-IP networks and implement a robocall mitigation program.

While some voice service providers such as Verizon and Spectrum have already begun implementing caller ID authentication systems in their networks, many providers will likely miss their deadlines. Luckily, there are other actions you can take to deal with robocalls.


Other Ways to Deal with Robocalls

It might take a while for your voice service provider to implement a caller ID authentication system. Even after it is in place, the system will not catch every robocall. Luckily, there are several actions you can take to deal with robocalls now and in the future:

  • Take advantage of your voice service provider’s caller ID service if you do not already use it. That way, you can avoid answering calls from numbers you do not recognize or whose ID seems suspicious (e.g., lists a city’s name). You will also be able to see any flags (e.g., a “Potential spam” flag) that your voice service provider adds to the caller ID.
  • Use a call-blocking solution, which might take the form of a built-in or add-on app, service, or device. These solutions typically use black lists (filters out known disreputable callers) or white lists (only lets approved callers through) to help stop robocalls from reaching your phone. Although referred to as “call-blocking” solutions, some can be configured to perform other actions, such as sending unwanted calls to voicemail.
  • List your phone number in the US Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. In addition, add your phone number to your state’s do-not-call list if it has a separate one. Although illegal robocallers don’t check do-not-call lists, it will stop legitimate telemarketers from contacting you.


You Don’t Have to Put Up with Annoying Robocalls

Although it might take several more years, the number of robocalls and robocall victims are expected to significantly decline thanks to the TRACED Act. In the meantime, you can take advantage of the tools that are currently available to reduce the number of robocalls you receive.

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