Robocalls are getting worse. How do we stop them?

If it seems that phone calls are getting worse, it's not just your imagination. Last year, more than 48 billion automatic calls were placed in the United States. UU., Which represents 46 percent more than just a year before. The US agency in charge of protecting consumers from communications scams, the Federal Communications Commission, anticipates that more than half of all calls made this year will be called automatic. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are rushing to push legislation to solve the growing problem.

"Regulators and the industry need better tools to protect consumers, and once again, it's time for Congress to act," Frank Pallone (D-NJ), president of the Chamber of Commerce and Energy Committee He said at a committee hearing on Tuesday. "There is not a single silver bullet, and that is why it is so important that we address this problem from all sides."

This is probably the reason why, in recent months, telephone service providers such as Comcast, AT & T and T-Mobile have presented a new technology as the solution for robocalls STIR / SHAKEN (abbreviation of Revised Secure Telephone Identity and Signature-Based Management of Asserted Information Using Tokens) is a pair of network protocols that use digital certificates to ensure that calls received by a client do not come from counterfeit numbers . Once calls are authenticated widely, consumers will know when a number is likely to be an automatic call, and agencies like the FCC will have an advantage in tracking the caller.

STIR / SHAKEN will not be enough to solve the problem by itself. The protocol does not identify the bad actors, and although the operators have begun to implement it, it has been a long process involving a large number of companies that need to associate and implement new technology.


It took years to develop the new protocols. and a combination of new telecommunications infrastructure and software is necessary before they are fully implemented. STIR / SHAKEN digital signatures are created at the beginning of each call in the networks where they have been implemented. These signatures are verified on the networks and sent to a customer's phone where they are registered as authentic or not.

"It's not something I can do before I do," said Jim McEachern, technology consultant for the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions. "It's important that you make sure this has been tested and doubled and tested and tested on the networks, Facebook goes down for a day … it's annoying or a relief, if a telephone network goes down for a day, think in the economic impact that it would have ".

Authenticating calls is very different from blocking them or even identifying them as scams, and has some real limitations. STIR / SHAKEN only allows service providers to identify when a call comes from a real caller, not from a spammer, and that call must be connecting two networks that have been associated to use the authentication protocol. When that happens, smartphone users will see something like "Caller Verified" on their caller ID, assuring them that this number comes from an authentic place. They will receive an unverified warning for everything else, be it an automatic call or a real human call from an unverified network.

It is important that STIR / SHAKEN can not block calls. In general, operators are legally required to complete calls made within their networks. In 2017, the FCC adopted new rules that allowed carriers to proactively block some unwanted calls, such as tax scams that do not originate from the IRS, but so far, the agency has not trusted insurers with the power to Block calls completely.


This is where the automatic call blocking applications come in. Applications like RoboKiller and Nomorobo do not have a federal mandate to connect calls, so they can stop incorrect calls before customers receive them.

"My concern with STIR / SHAKEN is that in the beginning it will only be marginally valuable." I hope that people do not feel like the promise of STIR / SHAKEN is that we are going to activate it on Monday and Tuesday, and all calls Telephone and telemarketing announcements will stop, "said Robokiller's product manager Ethan, Garr said." It will take a long time for it to fully unfold and in the short and medium term it probably will not have a big impact. "

According to Garr, applications like yours could take the authentication data from STIR / SHAKEN points and incorporate them into their algorithms to account for fraudulent calls.In combination with applications like RoboKiller, STIR / SHAKEN could help reduce drastically the number of unwanted calls.

But without a strict application of the rules, the assaults have no incentive to hang up the phone.In recent years, regulators fe Derals have launched several new initiatives aimed specifically at robocalls. The Federal Trade Commission encouraged entrepreneurs to develop solutions through an annual robocall competition, and the FCC has worked to fine people who call criminals, but has done little to combat the threat alone. But they may not be enough by themselves.

Last November, the FCC president, Ajit Pai, wrote letters to the operators asking them to deploy STIR / SHAKEN for purposes of 2019. When the operators did not move Fast enough, Pai moved his finger towards them for the second time in February. If major carriers such as AT & T, Verizon and T-Mobile did not make substantial efforts to combat automated calls, the FCC "would have to consider regulatory intervention."

These vague threats have lawmakers and consumer advocates looking at ways they could give Authorities like the FCC and the FTC have more authority to prosecute illegal assailants, which could even result in jail time .

The FCC and the FTC can take illegal offenders to court to fine or obtain civil fines, but no agency can take any legal action that could result in jail time. For that, the Justice Department has to attack automatic assaults, and so far has not seen it as a priority.

Last May, the FCC hit a famous employee in Miami, Florida, with a fine of $ 120 million. In three months, Adrian Abramovich was able to make 96 million unwanted calls that offered false travel offers. Pai said previously that the decision to request this fine would send a "strong and clear message" to other scammers. But that has not been the case.

The FTC has taken much more action than the FCC. According to the coordinator of the "Do not Call" program of the FTC, Ian Barlow, the agency has reported 141 (127 cases) of illegal theft of calls and has sued 465 corporations or companies and 377 people. In those cases, about $ 1.5 billion in lawsuits were obtained, but only about $ 124 million has been collected in total.


What the FCC and the FTC can do to fight calls is restricted. Legislators, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, have proposed a series of solutions that would broaden agency authorities and give consumers the possibility to pursue their scammers.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill that would expand the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 and the Do Not Call Registry by allowing consumers request legal damages for any telemarketing call they receive that they have never accepted. That means that if a scammer calls his grandmother and asks him to give him the numbers on his debit card, and they go ahead and order an Xbox, he will have some course of action to recover that money.

Others, such as Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and John Thune (R-SD), have insisted on the FCC and its authority over robocalls. The TRACED Act would increase the fine for automatic telephone calls to $ 10,000 per call, in excess of $ 1,000. It would also give the agency two additional years to find illegal robocallers and request them with fines. Currently, the agency has only one year since the call is made to seek and fine the person or corporation that made it.

These measures, combined with the new STIR / SHAKEN protocols, will help make a dent in the robocall problem, but they will not yet solve it completely. The new technology will take time to fully implement, and the number of unwanted calls we receive each day is getting worse. Experts agree that a multiple approach, combining new technology, blocking applications and legislation to strengthen compliance, is the best course of action.

When regulators, legislators and private industry work together to stop automatic calls, not only decreases the number of calls, but also facilitates adaptation to new techniques to combat criminal use. According to Garr, "No matter what you do, there will always be someone who will try to break that system."

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