Ring! Ring! Ring! Your car warranty is nearing expiration. You owe money to the IRS. You’ve been pre-approved for a low-interest credit card!
Robocalls — often from scammers trying to steal your money — have long been the bane of communication technology.
“It’s not just that they’re are so damn annoying and frustrating, it’s that they’re dangerous,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection.
“They enable criminal conduct and erode trust. They prey on our most vulnerable communities — seniors, immigrants, those with limited English skills. And we have the technology to stop it.”
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave phone companies a June 30 deadline to start using technology that helps identify and block such calls. And while the phone companies controlling the lion’s share of the market — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — have done so across all or most of their networks, many smaller companies have not.
Scammers are flocking to those little companies and continue to make more than a billion robocalls a month, according to FCC data and “Make the Ringing Stop,” a new report by the California Public Interest Research Group.
“Every day they wait, another Californian is taken advantage of,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “There has been much progress — but there’s much to be done.”
Among 49 of the largest phone companies nationwide, only 16 have completely implemented anti-robocall technology, the report found. Another 18 have partially implemented the technology, and 15 told the FCC that they’re skipping the industry standard technology and are, or will, use their own methods to reduce robocalls.
“What does this mean? It means the industry isn’t doing nearly as much as hoped to fight the crime that for years has caused so much heartache and aggravation among consumers nationwide,” the report said.Eric Penner said he was robocalled daily for months in 2015. (File photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Illegal robocalls lead to $10 billion a year in fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The calls cost consumers an additional $3 billion a year in wasted time, according to the FCC.
An elderly Ohio man lost more than $124,000 in May after he was tricked into believing a call was from Amazon’s security department.
“Unwanted robocalls terrorize all of us, and sometimes lives are destroyed,” said Sander Kushen, a public health advocate for CALPIRG.
Next week, the FCC is slated to restrict carriers from completing calls originating with phone companies that haven’t detailed how they’ll block robocalls, though some companies have been granted extensions. CALPIRG called on the FCC to move up the deadline, and to follow through on promises to monitor the effectiveness of each provider’s plan. If robocalls still get through, the regulator should force companies to plug the holes, CALPIRG said.
Working the scam
“Con artists call and impersonate your bank, the IRS, the police, the Social Security Administration, Amazon or any other entity they think will get your attention and rattle you badly enough to cough up personal information or agree to wire money or run out to buy gift cards to pay some fabricated obligation,” the report said.
These scammers do something called “spoofing.” Using computers, they set up automated dialing software and decide what to display for the caller ID. Sometimes they’ll choose an area code and prefix to make the call look local, so you might be more inclined to answer. Sometimes they’ll hijack the caller ID of a company you trust, or of a government office you fear.
The antidote is technology called STIR/SHAKEN, which stands for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using Tokens.A South Pasadena resident received a scam message, posing as City Council to give away free home alarm systems. Police said the text may install a virus or malware on your device. (Courtesy of South Pasadena Police Department)
It allows the company originating a call to verify that the call is truly coming from the number on the caller ID, and to “sign off” on it before allowing it to go through, the report says.
It’s essentially caller ID authentication, and the hope is that the majority of scam calls will get blocked, and the ones that do get through will be labeled as “possible scam” so consumers either won’t answer or will be suspicious.
Over time, the hope is, scam calls should be less and less lucrative and become less and less common.
Good news, bad news
The good news is that the major carriers have been rolling out the STIR/SHAKEN technology for more than a year, and with the FCC’s June deadline bearing down, the volume of scam calls plunged.
The bad news is that more than a billion robocalls a month are still made anyway.
Scam calls totaled 2.1 billion in June, 1.8 billion in July and 1.5 billion in August, according to data from YouMail, a robocall filtering company. That’s a drop of 29% over three months.
Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 28, phone companies are required to block calls from companies that haven’t at least filed plans for fighting illegal robocalls with the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database. Officials hope that will reduce scam calls even more.
But criminals are nothing if not adaptable.(iStockphoto)
You may have noticed more texts from “Amazon” or the “Employment Development Department” as of late: There has been an explosion in “robotexts,” which aren’t covered by the law.
And robotexts dwarf robocalls: 7.65 billion spam texts were sent in August — or 30 spam texts for every person in the U.S., according to RoboKiller. The FCC expects spam texts to hit 86 billion this year, a 55% leap over last year.
Kushen, of CALPIRG, said that’s next on the agenda. Industry groups are in the early stages of crafting authentication plans for text messages.
Tips to stay safe
Until then, CALPIRG offers this advice:Gift cards are for gifts; never pay bills with them. Don’t give your phone number to anyone who doesn’t need to reach you immediately; opt for email notifications from retailers, pharmacies, etc. Use multiple robocall filters; one might catch calls that slip through the others. Start by asking your phone company what robocall filters it offers at no charge. If someone calls claiming to be with a company you do business with, hang up and call them back at a phone number you look up independently. Never confirm or provide personal information to any caller you weren’t expecting, no matter who they say they are. If you get a call saying you’re supposedly a victim of fraud, or you’re behind on taxes, or your grandchild is in jail, call someone you trust before taking any action. If a caller demands you to take action immediately or pressures you not to tell anyone about the call, hang up and contact a trusted relative or friend. Be skeptical of your caller ID; a call that appears to be from a neighbor could be coming from a con artist halfway around the world. Don’t be tricked if a caller knows your name, address, family members’ names or even your Social Security number. All of this and more was exposed for half of the adult population in the Equifax data breach of 2017 and numerous other breaches in recent years. Register with the federal Do Not Call Registry, and report illegal robocalls and Do Not Call List violations to the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP, or file a complaint online at ftc.gov/complaint and consumercomplaints.fcc.gov .