United States

Feds Look At New Way To Stop Scam Phone Calls

Many consumers have received those annoying robocalls from someone claiming to be from the IRS or the Microsoft Security department. Now, the FCC and phone carriers are working on a way of blocking the phony callers trying to scam you.

“Over 3,000 calls being made every second to Americans,” said Ethan Garr, vice president with Tel Tech.

Tel Tech, a New Jersey company, makes an app called, “ROBO-Killer.” The app smothers robocalls on landlines and mobile phones. The software relies on universally available call forwarding information to screen incoming calls, and then uses audio-fingerprint technology to determine if the call is from a human or a robot.

“We’re about 98 percent effective,” Garr said.

Garr explained that it’s pretty easy for people to spoof caller ID.

“You can change your caller ID to any number you want,” said Garr.

Tel Tech also makes an app that lets you choose any number you want to show up on caller ID. For example, a doctor on call might legitimately need to disguise her mobile number when calling a patient. Garr added, it’s pretty simple to do, because caller ID is primitive 1980s technology.

“It was a way for people to see who was calling, but it got co-opted over time,” said Garr.

“I think our best estimate for last month was around 1.4 billion scam calls made in the U.S.,” said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail. . For years, YouMail has tracked the rapid rise in computer-dialed phone calls and built apps to help people block them.

Why not just ban all robocalls?

“We need to have a better definition of what a robocall is,” said Eric Troutman, an attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson. He said his clients are banks that auto-dial customers to provide fraud alerts and pharmacies who use robocall technology to alert patients about refills.

Troutman welcomes tougher federal laws for scammers. But not an outright robocall ban.

“What is it that we’re actually trying to prevent? Is it that we’re trying to prevent American businesses from contacting their customers with account-specific information that their customer needs? I don’t think so,” added Troutman.

The other major obstacle to blocking scam calls is our sprawling national phone system.

“There are 3,000 carriers in the U.S. There are multiple billions of phone calls every day. To roll out something like that is a pretty massive undertaking,” said Quilici.

But the good news is that some progress is being made.

Phone carriers are teaming up with the FCC to develop a caller ID update that will help you decide whether to trust the number that appears on your phone display. So, when calls that come in via scammers’ preferred route of using untrusted overseas phone services, the calls will be flagged with something like a red “X.” Other calls, that come in through a legitimate carrier might get a green check.

It’s then up to you to decide what to block. But will the update stop the fake I-T guys and the phony IRS agents? Experts say probably not. But that caller ID upgrade could rollout sometime next year and be included in your monthly phone plan for free.

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