Spam calls are now better protected on your phone. However, it’s still not sure

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The FCC took a step Thursday to try to cut down on robocalls, but some loopholes for spammers remain. (John Raoux / Associated Press)
If you haven’t been warned recently that your car warranty has expired, that something has gone badly wrong with your Social Security account or that you are in big trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, then you must not have a phone.

FILE – An AT&T app on a mobile in Orlando, Fla., displays a call log in this Aug. 1, 2017, file picture. Experts believe robocalls are on the decline, including fraud calls and pestering from your credit card company to pay your account. Scammers have not been immune to the coronavirus epidemic, which has resulted in millions of job losses. According to YouMail, a robocall filtering service, 2.9 billion robocalls were made in the United States in April 2020, down from 4.1 billion in March and 4.8 billion in February. (AP Photo/File: John Raoux)

Highlights

  • On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission took another step to identify and potentially block spam calls, closing one of the big loopholes in its enforcement efforts. The commission voted unanimously to extend its crackdown on caller ID spoofing — that is, callers who disguise the phone number they’re using — to the gateways handling calls coming into the U.S. from other countries. It’s good news for people tired of getting calls from “Spam Likely.” But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to pick up the phone every time it rings — at least not yet.

  • Those are just a few of the most popular messages delivered by robocallers, who often hide behind spoofed numbers to fool you into answering. RoboKiller, a company that makes technology to identify bogus calls, estimated that Americans were deluged with more than 72 billion spam calls in 2021 — a 32% increase over 2020. Spammers rang Californians’ phones more than 7 billion times, RoboKiller estimated.

STIR/SHAKEN doesn’t block spam calls by itself. Instead, it helps carriers identify calls with spoofed IDs, which they can use other technology to block. And in some cases, it can help identify calls that an international gateway must block or face having all of its traffic rejected by the U.S. carriers it connects to, a spokesman for the commission said in an email. Adding the international gateways to STIR/SHAKEN is “the right move,” said Chief Executive Jim Dalton of TransNexus, a company that helps carriers implement the standards. “Unless you have STIR and SHAKEN everywhere,” Dalton explained, “it’s worthless. It’s like a bucket with a hole.”

The international gateways targeted by Thursday’s rule have seen a growing number of spam calls since the FCC started to attack spoofing in 2019 through technical standards known as STIR/SHAKEN. The standards, which major phone companies have been required to implement, verify caller ID information as it is transmitted from carrier to carrier along the call’s route.

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