Tired of Robocalls? Things May Be About to Get Better

Jun 28, 2021

Most of the time, when my mobile phone rings, I don’t answer. I’ve learned that about eight times out of 10, the call isn’t from anyone I know. It’s a recorded message telling me my car warranty is about to expire or that I can save money by switching to a different insurance provider.

Not all "robocalls" are spam, of course. My doctor and dentist use automated calls to remind me of appointments. But "reminder" calls (for which I have given permission) are only a fraction of the robocall world.

Last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, American consumers received nearly 55 billion spam robocalls. In many cases, such calls use "spoofing" technology to make them appear to be coming from a local phone number that you’re more likely to answer. So it’s no surprise that being inundated with robocalls is the #1 consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission.

Fortunately, help is at hand. This Wednesday (June 30) marks the deadline for most phone companies to implement a technology that will reduce the number of robocalls, especially "spoofed" ones. At least, that’s the goal.

The technology is called "STIR/SHAKEN." That may sound like it came from a James Bond story ("Shaken, not stirred" is a famous Bond line), but the words are acronyms. STIR stands for "Secure Telephone Identity Revisited," and SHAKEN is for "Signature-Based Handling of Asserted Information Using ToKENs." If all this sounds rather technical, it’s because it is.

All you really need to know is this (as described by CNET.com):

The way it works is that Stir/Shaken technology ensures that calls traveling through phone networks have their caller ID "signed" as legitimate by originating carriers and validated by other carriers before the calls reach you. In short, the technology authenticates a phone call’s origin and makes certain the information on the Caller ID matches.

Image via Telnyx

You can learn more here from the FCC.

Robocalls and fraud

Automated calling, especially with spoofed numbers, has been a bonanza for scam artists, making it easy to weed out wary people and find their "marks."

"Many robocalls are probably scams," warns the Federal Trade Commission. One common approach is a call that purports to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or some other government agency.

I received one a few months ago. The recorded message warned me that the IRS had issued a warrant for my arrest and that federal marshalls were on their way to get me unless I "cleared [my] tax debt immediately." Fortunately, as I was told, I could avoid jail simply by making payment arrangements by phone.

Sadly, some people fall for such scams and end up giving a scammer a bank account number and other personal information.

What NOT to do

A website/app called DoNotPay offers suggestions for what to do (or not to do) if you get a spam robocall.

• Refrain from pressing keys: Robocallers usually instruct you to press a key to listen to a fantastic offer, or to be redirected to a representative that has something important to tell you. You should never follow such instructions because the callers use it to verify your number.... Pressing keys will only lead to more robocalls, so don’t do it even if the caller says that it will take you off the calling list.

• Never call back: If you hear a pre-recorded message prompting you to call a number, [you can] be sure that it is a scam call. This type of robocall will imitate a call from the IRS or a utility provider telling you that you owe taxes or have an overdue bill... If you think that the call may be legitimate, you should find the customer service number of the particular agency or the provider, and call it to check if the message was real. Never call the number provided during a robocall.

• Never disclose personal information: Legitimate businesses or government agencies will always respect your privacy and will never ask you to provide personal or financial information over the phone. In case a caller requests such details, you should not doubt that they are trying to scam you.... If the caller asks for your bank account or credit card details, just hang up.

• Never say "Yes": Saying yes is one of the biggest mistakes you can make on a robocall. Callers can record your voice and use the voice command to authorize financial transactions.

Let’s hope new technology will help reduce the number of robocalls. But it’s also important to remain on your guard. Unfortunately, there are thieves among us.

Written by

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife has been a news writer for the Associated Press, a college instructor, and a radio host. He and his wife Joye have three grown sons.