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Curbing robocalls: what Wednesday's deadline for carriers means for you

Robocalls FCC Fine
Posted at 5:59 AM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 08:36:23-04

They're the phone calls that you likely receive on a daily basis that, at best, are annoying, and at their worst, may be costly.

Robocalls have been a growing problem in the last few years; according to the FCC, American consumers received nearly four billion robocalls per month in 2020, costing more than $3 billion in lost time. That's not including the money lost to fraudulent robocalls and scams.

So what is being done to curb the number of robocalls you receive?

Wednesday is the federal deadline for phone carriers to implement anti-robocall technology under the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, signed into law in December 2019.

What is the anti-robocall technology that's being put in place?

The FCC now requires all large phone carriers, like Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T to implement what's called STIR/SHAKEN in their networks.

Effectively, it's a filter that helps track and log every robocall to ensure they are from legal sources.

STIR stands for "Secure Telephone Identity Revisited," and is the technical protocol by which the SHAKEN part of the technology runs. SHAKEN stands for "Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs," and it establishes the framework for robocalls to be tracked in the FCC's new Robocall Mitigation Database.

The FCC says that because the STIR/SHAKEN framework is only operational on Internet Protocol (IP) networks, phone providers that use older network technology need to upgrade or develop caller ID authentication that works on non-IP networks.

How does STIR/SHAKEN work?

Essentially, STIR/SHAKEN is a digital call verification system.

The new technology uses bits of information called "tokens" on the internet on calls that go across multiple phone networks. Each of these tokens has a signature that is traced to ensure that the call's source matches what shows up on caller ID.

The hope is that this technology will help cut down call "spoofing," in which someone falsifies the information sent to caller ID to look like another person's number.

The FCC says call spoofing is illegal if there is intent to cause harm and spoofers can face up to $10,000 in fines per violation.

AT&T will soon automatically block robocalls

Will consumers see a dramatic drop in the number of robocalls they receive?

According to CNET, the new technology likely won't mean an immediate drop in the number of robocalls consumers receive. This is due to a few reasons.

First, major phone carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile already are implementing the technology, and have been for over two years.

Second, law enforcement agencies say scammers are always trying to find new ways to take advantage of consumers. CNET reports that robocalls are a cheap means for them to do so.

And third, some robocalls are legal. The FTC has a list of the types of robocalls that are allowed without the consumer's permission, meaning that not all robocalls will be blocked with the STIR/SHAKEN standards.

What can consumers do to protect themselves?

The FCC says there are a number of things consumers can do to reduce the number of unwanted calls they receive and protect themselves from potentially fraudulent activity:

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers.
  • Be aware: caller ID showing a "local" number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller, as it may be spoofed.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller, or a recording, asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with "Yes."
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
  • To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List.