You’ve more than likely received an incoming call from unknown numbers with your area code and sometimes even the next three digits of your own phone number. This practice of altering the calling number of outbound telephone calls in order to deceive is known as spoofing. Spoofing allows scammers and dishonest robocallers to disguise their identities to trick you into answering.
In some cases, the deception is intended to be even more malicious such as a scammer impersonating an IRS agent in order to steal your money and your personally identifiable information. Not only is spoofing dangerous for consumers, but it makes it difficult for law enforcement to bring these criminals to justice.
According to YouMail, a robocall blocking and tracking company, in October alone, 5.1 billion robocalls were placed in the U.S. Additionally, it’s estimated that one-third of calls placed between January and June 2018 were robocalls and scams, according to Transaction Network Service, who manages data networks for telecommunications service providers like Verizon and Sprint.
Last month, 35 state attorneys general issued a joint letter urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to step up efforts to fight illegal robocalls, specifically spoofed calls. “Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software, and an internet connection,” the attorneys general wrote in their comments to the FCC.
According to the telecom industry, billions of robocalls are already being blocked. Primarily the ones that are easiest to identify, such as those with too many or too few digits. As soon as next year, the telecom industry plans to roll out a new technology that would work on both landline and cell phones. The technology, called SHAKEN/STIR wouldn’t stop the calls but would alert consumers when they are receiving a potentially fraudulent spoofed call so that they could decide whether to answer or not.
Essentially, SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted Information using toKens)/STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) is an authentication system that would scout incoming calls to ensure that they are legitimate when they reach your carrier and before they get to your phone.
It’s believed that some telephone carriers could start using the new technology soon, but it will take time before it becomes the industry standard. Issues such as how to label a detected spoofed call, the cost for some telephone carriers to upgrade their networks to digital in order to use the new technology and the potential gaps in coverage are all issues the telecom industry still needs to address.
In the meantime, Consumer Reports offers these tips to minimize the number of robocalls you receive.
List Your Phone Number with the Do Not Call Registry
By signing up for the Do Not Call Registry, you can request that your landline or cell phone number be removed from the call lists companies use. You’ll still get calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship, calls that are not commercial, such as school closings, storm warnings, and other civic notices, and calls from nonprofit organizations, including political solicitations. However, be aware that many dishonest robocallers ignore the laws and will call you anyway.
Sign Up for Your Carrier’s Robocall Alert Service
Many companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon, have services that alert you that an incoming robocall may be from a scammer or spammer. In some cases, these services are free, but for a few dollars more per month you can get a more robust version that can block the robocalls from ringing on your phone. While the carriers’ systems can successfully notify customers of calls that may be problematic, they are far from perfect. Scammers can still spoof legitimate numbers.
Download A Call-Blocking App
Reject Anonymous Calls
One option available from some phone companies is to automatically reject anonymous calls. If you turn this feature on, all anonymous calls are instantly rejected, preventing the caller from even leaving a message. Unfortunately, robocalls are not always anonymous. In addition, this may prevent you from receiving legitimate calls from friends, relatives, or others who, for privacy reasons, don’t want their number and other information showing up on caller ID.