Even as consumers have become more aware and vigilant of scam robocalls and robotexts, these assailants are continually finding new ways to bombard users.
Despite a decline in robocalls in 2021, consumers in the US still received 4.3 billion unwanted calls. As these spammers get more sophisticated, it is important to stay ahead of the next tactic by understanding what regulators such as the FCC are doing, and fortifying oneself with new apps to help counteract this continuing onslaught.
Has the FCC Answered the Call to Stop Scammers?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recognized illegal and spoofed calls as the top complaint by consumers. To this end, the FCC had required the phone providers the deadline of June 30, 2021 to implement STIR/SHAKEN, which stands for the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) standards.
Spoofed calls have notoriously been a primary component in the effectiveness of scams by spammers. Because they use a fake numbers that look local or official, most consumers unwittingly answer the phone exposing them to new depths of privacy risks. While it may sound like James Bond’s drink order, it is actually designed to identify spoofed calls.
The STIR/SHAKEN technology is proposed to become standard across the telecommunication industry. With STIR/SHAKEN, calls are passed through interconnected phone networks and caller ID is validated digitally as authentic by originating carriers and other carriers before reaching the intended consumer. When implemented as intended, it uses a digital ‘fingerprint’ or token (a digital signature) to verify whether the call being made truly matches the caller ID being displayed.
Does it Help?
Yes and no.
As part of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act), all voice service providers were required to certify with the Robocall Mitigation Database, and provide detailed information on the company’s implementation of STIR/SHAKEN or a robocall mitigation program to show how they are preventing illegal robocalls from starting with their callers.
While the most identifiable telecommunication companies (categorized as Tier 1) such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, have begun to integrate STIR/SHAKEN technology, not all carriers are required or able to. If you’re with one of the major carriers, you might have noticed some calls coming through with ‘Scam Likely’ or ‘Spam Likely’ as the caller ID.
How are scammers getting around this?
Some voice service providers, however, are running analog not digital technology so they can’t implement STIR/SHAKEN, which is operated through internet protocol (IP) networks. As the move from analog to digital will cost over a billion dollars, the transition of smaller carriers appears to be more gradual. This leaves consumers still vulnerable from scam robocalls and texts originating from these carriers.
Another way scammers are getting around this new system is by securing real numbers so that they get through the authentication process. Other tactics include having messages go straight to the consumers’ voicemail to side step the criteria of being considered a call.
Though the initial implementation of STIR/SHAKEN did not hold gateway providers to the same requirements as most carriers, the FCC is now requiring gateway providers to refuse calls from providers that have not been certified in the Robocall Mitigation Database beginning September 28, 2021. These providers are also now required to validate ‘unsigned’ calls.
This is a huge win for the battle against spam robocalls as gateway providers are often the intermediate provider which connect calls coming from foreign numbers, which then ultimately reaches a US number.
As with other aspects of the new law, there are loopholes as these gateway providers can waive the requirement to authenticate ‘unsigned’ calls by agreeing to provide traceback information. This means in exchange for tracing back the original of possibly illegal calls for the FCC and other regulatory bodies, they do not have to authenticate calls before they reach the consumer.
While the FCC is making great strides, there are plenty of gaps and loopholes that leaves consumers vulnerable to potentially suspect robocalls and texts. It is imperative that consumers continue to stay up-to-date on laws and policy changes to the TRACED act as well as integrate robocall and text protection strategies as outlined in previous articles such 4 Easy Ways to Block Robocalls Fast and Dangerous texts targeting your phone.
Additionally, below are two additional apps that can help you stay safer:
Available for both Android and iPhone, YouMail is a free app that offers a plethora of services. Specific to robocalls, however, it helps in several ways:
- Visual voicemail: This voice-to-text option transcribes voicemail to text so you can read it on-screen, which allows users to get messages without having to listen to them.
- Robocall call blocker: The app, which boasts over 1 billion robocalls intercepted, can filter the caller’s number against the Robocall Index. This index, created by the CEO of YouMail, aggregates data of over a million ‘bad numbers’ flagged over many years. If the number calling you matches up to any of these flagged numbers, the call doesn’t even reach your phone and the caller receives an ‘out of service’ message.
- Reverse Phone Number Lookup Database: it is a free search engine which allows you to look up the information of any number calling you so you can get information about the caller immediately.
- Caller ID: While carriers start to integrate STIR/SHAKEN, YouMail’s caller ID is free feature that filters calls against their proprietary database and gives you the correct name, city, state, and avatar. If the caller comes up as a suspicious number, the call gets sent out a service dial tone.
An area that is still plaguing consumers and not directly helped by the STIR/SHAKEN technology or the TRACED act, are spam texts. Easily mistaken as legitimate by users, these spam texts can be nefarious by not only invading your privacy but by potentially introducing destructive malware and viruses to your phone.
Made by the creators of RoboKiller, TextKiller is focused on blocking spam texts from numbers not listed on your phone. Not only does its filtration system block suspected spam texts from even reaching you, but you can create ‘keyword’ specific blocks.
Unlike the basic spam filtering services, TextKiller also blocks email addresses and phone number ranges. The app creates separate folders of known senders, unknown senders, and junk so you always have the option of browsing texts that have been filtered out.
Download the app: iOS (here)
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