Consumer Protection

US Mobile Phones Flooded With Robocalls

Americans received 26.3 billion robocalls on their mobile phones in 2018, according to Hiya. That was 46 percent more than in 2017.

Consumers received an average of 10 spam calls per month, Hiya found.

The top unwanted call in the U.S. was for the Wangiri, or “one-ring” scam, which grew 250 percent year over year.

Seven of the top area codes targeted by spammers were in Texas, Hiya said. The top three were 214 in Dallas, 817 in Fort Worth, and 210 in San Antonio.

Robocalls purporting to be from debt collectors made up 15 of the top 20 toll-free numbers used, Hiya reported. The remaining five were used by telemarketers.

“Obviously, people do not pay for voice telecommunications to place themselves on robocall lists,” said Michael Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Robocalls degrade voice telecommunications by making most calls trash calls,” he told CRM Buyer.

Carriers’ Battle Against Robocalls

The major wireless carriers have been doing their bit to fight robocallers.

T-Mobile gives its postpaid and Metro by T-Mobile services customers Scam ID and Scam Block at no charge. It includes Name ID service in its ONE Plus plan for free, and it charges subscribers US$4 a month for its other services.

AT&T offers eligible wireless customers with HD Voice its Call Protect free service.

Verizon offers wireless customers call and spam screening free, and it offers free alerts about potential spam calls to customers on select Android phones. In March, it will begin rolling out free spam alerting and call blocking to all customers whose phones support these features.

The telecom industry as a whole also has been working on the issue. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions last fall launched the Secure Telephone Identity Governance Authority to combat robocalling.

STI-GA will support the timely deployment of the Stir/SHAKEN protocol. SHAKEN, the Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs, is a framework specifying a practical mechanism for service providers to implement the IETF’s STIR protocol to authenticate calls.

States Scream for Action

Thirty-five state attorneys general last fall submitted a joint letter with recommendations on how the U.S. Federal Communications Commission could further empower service providers to block illegal calls.

The officials wanted the FCC to adopt new rules authorizing voice service providers to block illegally spoofed calls beyond what is currently authorized in the 2017 Call Blocking Order and to use all available tools for accurate identification of illegal calls, among other things.

Consumers can subscribe to caller ID, Frost’s Jude noted, but “with robocallers spoofing caller ID, there is no way to avoid a significant number of unwanted calls.”

The advantages in technology make the situation worse. It can cost only 7 cents a minute to broadcast millions of robocalls, and it can be done from offshore.

Another option is ringless voicemail broadcasting directly to a target’s voicemail inbox.

The FCC’s Counterattack

The FCC has advocated extending the provisions of the Truth in Caller ID Act to communications originating outside the U.S., including text messages and voice services.

The rules would reflect Section 503 of Ray Baum’s Act, which Congress recently passed.

The commission released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking early this month. It held an open meeting on Wednesday when its board was expected to vote on the issue.

“There should be an FCC-sponsored spam database where calls and their origin are tracked, and spammers should be fined $1,000 per unwanted call,” suggested Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

The FCC “should adjust the notion of common carriage in an era of robocalls,” Frost’s Jude suggested. Robocallers “should probably not have the same access privileges as humans.”

One way to deal with robocallers would be to let carriers impose access charges on them because “robocalls, in effect, steal the value of the service that carriers provide,” Jude said.

“The technology exists to find them and bill them,” he remarked. “This isn’t rocket science, after all. If they don’t pay, carriers can refuse to carry their traffic.”

The Impact of Robocalls on Business

“Illegally spoofed calls and robocall spam are a public nuisance,” Constellation’s Wang told CRM Buyer. They “lead to wasted productivity because people don’t trust numbers not on their contact list.”

Americans answer only 52 percent of the calls they receive on their mobile phones, Hiya said.

Mobile “is the primary channel” for marketing, Wang said. “When marketers abuse this channel, users shut them out.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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