Phone Companies are Testing New Software to Catch Spam Calls

Spam Calls

Phone Companies are Testing New Software to Catch Spam Calls

A new spam call standard could come to your mobile provider by the end of the year. The seemingly endless stream of robocalls reached a new monthly high of 5.23 billion nationwide in March, according to the call-blocking service YouMail. Some were spammy pitches for unwanted vehicle warranties or debt-relief services. Nearly half were straight-up scams. There was often one common thread: They frequently came from somewhere other than they said they did.

Pending regulatory changes could even add to the chaos. YouMail estimated there were 47.8 billion robocalls last year, up nearly 57 percent from 2017. Many of the larger carriers are finally testing and adopting technical standards intended to ensure callers are using legitimate phone numbers. Currently, scammers often display bogus numbers — sometimes spoofing official or local numbers meant to inspire trust. Anti-spoofing technology won’t end spam, experts said, but it should help.

T-Mobile was the first to install the new standard. AT&T and Comcast have worked together to verify calls across their networks, and Verizon said it expected to finish rolling out the standard within the next few months. For the new approach to be most effective, a majority of the industry must use the new protocol. That way, both ends of a call can be verified.

Gaps would still exist, however. Most older landlines, the kind found more often in rural areas, cannot adopt the new protocol. And international calls cannot yet be fully traced, so scams originating overseas using a spoofed domestic number could slip through. But experts said the new standard would still make it easier to more quickly identify schemes coming from abroad if the industry’s most prominent companies adopted it.

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has said spam calls are a top priority, critics have long complained that the industry and its regulators have been slow to address the problem. A Senate bill that would establish a deadline has gained bipartisan traction. The Traced Act passed a committee vote. Along with stiffening penalties and giving the FCC more time to punish perpetrators, the bill would require all voice service providers, including those over the internet, such as Skype and Google Voice, to adopt call authentication technology within 18 months of the bill’s enactment.

The authentic caller ID information isn’t a cure-all. The new standard hasn’t yet been rolled out, and there are already cheap and easy ways to circumvent it. Scammers who can’t hide behind spoofed numbers can buy real ones for $1 a month or less and make tens of thousands of calls from each of them.

Attempts to weed out fake calls have also moved to verify the requests you might want to pick up. Many businesses and governments use bulk calling services to provide critical information such as the following: credit-card fraud alerts from banks, product recalls, and even alerts to crime victims that an offender has been released from custody. Such calls have been mislabeled as scams or also mistakenly blocked by apps after being reported as spam.

Regulators have made headway against illegal calls: The FCC has issued fines for spoofing, and the Federal Trade Commission recently shut down four companies that made billions of illegal calls. But consumer advocates are concerned that regulators could add to the volume of spam calls that are legally permitted. The FCC is working on a new definition of auto-dialers, the systems that make robocalls, to clarify what technology it covers.

New technology is providing hope that, someday, you might be able to safely pick up your phone again without robocalls. For now, you’ll be likely to know callers are who they say they are, but don’t expect one solution that will put an end to robocalls. Need more information? Contact us.