Are We Winning the Robocall Wars?
Are you sick and tired of having your day interrupted by 'Rachel from Card Services' or 'Jennifer from the Warranty Department'? Despite advances in technology, new laws, and the threat of enormous fines, the robocall problem is getting worse every year. Today's article describes the epic takedown of one Robocall King, the reason why you're getting so many unwanted calls from local numbers, and gives some new tools to fight robocalls. Read on for the story...
Emptying the Ocean - One Robocaller at a Time
Wired's 2019 story "On the Trail of the Robocall King" describes the hunt for the entity responsible for almost 100 million travel-related robocalls. Some very creative sleuthing followed the trail from an office in Massachusetts, to a call center in Mexico, to the Miami home of Adrian Abramovich, the alleged robocall king. Abramovich was using his home computer and off-the-shelf software to make millions of calls on a VoIP line with spoofed caller-ID.
Abramovich's robocalling operation was exposed and he was fined $120 million by the Federal Communications Commission. Of course, that's a sum that will never be collected. And even with Abramovich out of the game, the robocall problem continues to grow. "Shady new kingpins are always popping up," the Wired story laments. And even the FCC admits that “Going after a single bad actor is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.” Nearly half of all calls to mobile phones are robocall scams.
According to a study done by YouMail, Americans received about 58 billion robocalls in 2019; a 16% increase from the prvious year. That works out to more than 158 million calls placed every day, or an average of 290 per year for every adult. Despite my best efforts to block them, I still get 4 or 5 every day, so I must be above average. According to a recent Google survey, more than two third of respondents answer calls from unknown numbers, with concerns that they could be from a neighbor or loved one.
A shady technique known as "call spoofing" enables the robocallers to make any number show up on your caller-ID screen. Particularly annoying is "neighborhood spam" where the incoming call shows your area code and the first three digits of your phone number. Scammers know this increases the likelihood that you'll answer. Unfortunately, there's nothing in the telephone infrastructure that can prevent number spoofing.
This was made possible by VoIP technology (the tech for making phone calls over the Internet) and embraced by legitimate company call centers, so one general 1-800 number for a business would appear on caller IDs. It didn't take long for this loophole to be exploited by robocall scammers.
My recent article [SHAKEN OR STIRRED?] Blocking Phone Scams and Robocalls, discusses some new telephony standards that enable carriers to verify that a calling phone number has not been spoofed. Read that article to see what T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint offer to help customers block unwanted calls.
That article also gives links to five other tools that can be used to fight robocalls on mobile, VoIP-based and landline phones. I've been using one of those tools, Call Filter, a Verizon app that catches some (but not all) robocalls, labelling them as Spam or Fraud.
Some New Tools to Fight Robocalls
Google's Pixel smartphones have a feature called Call Screen, which uses AI to answer incoming calls. Call Screen uses the Google Assistant to ask who's calling, and why. The response is translated into text on your screen so you can decide whether or not to answer. If it's Rachel from Card Services calling about your credit card account (again!), you can click "Report as spam" and gleefully hang up without interacting with the call.
If you don't have a Pixel smartphone, right now you can only block a number by tapping it in your call history and selecting the "Block number" option from the dropdown list. But newer versions of the Android system's Phone app will include new call blocking settings. Users will have the option to block all calls from numbers that aren't in their contacts, calls that don't include caller-ID, and apparently, pay phones. Pay phones are still a thing? Huh.
For now, it's a classic arms race. New technology and tools are developed to fight robocalls, and the scammers develop new ways to interrupt your day with pitches for fabulous vacations, low interest rate credit cards, and requests for donations to bogus charities.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. What steps do you take to stem the tide of unwanted robocalls? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 18 May 2020
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are We Winning the Robocall Wars? (Posted: 18 May 2020)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved