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U.S. phone companies must begin using tech to block illegal robocalls

By law, all phone companies must notify the regulators by Wednesday where they stand on implementing the technology. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
By law, all phone companies must notify the regulators by Wednesday where they stand on implementing the technology. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

June 30 (UPI) -- For Americans who are tired of receiving robocalls, help may be on the way Wednesday.

A robocall is precisely what it sounds like -- an automated recording at the other end of the line promoting or selling something. Often times, it's an illegal scam. And federal regulators are starting to get tough with them.

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Beginning Wednesday, major U.S. phone providers -- including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Comcast -- are required by the Federal Communications Commission to implement technology known as STIR/SHAKEN to prevent rampant spam calls.

Over the first five months of this year, Americans have received about 22 billion robocalls and are on pace to see 52 billion by the end of the year, according to robocall blocker YouMail.

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In 2019, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act made compliance with STIR/SHAKEN mandatory and directed the FCC to establish rules requiring providers to implement the technology within 18 months.

That deadline arrives Wednesday. With the new technology, illegal scammers are no longer allowed to purport to be from the Internal Revenue Service, a financial institution or a well-known company, for example. An elderly Cleveland man lost $124,000 last month to a robocaller who pretended to be from retail giant Amazon.

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STIR/SHAKEN are acronyms for the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens standards, with STIR representing the protocol and SHAKEN the framework for tracking robocalls.

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The technology uses a caller ID system to verify whether calls on a provider's network are truly coming from the number on display.

"This means that calls traveling through interconnected phone networks would have their caller ID 'signed' as legitimate by originating carriers validated by other carriers before reaching consumers," the FCC said in a statement.

"STIR/SHAKEN digitally validates the handoff of phone calls passing through the complex web of networks, allowing the phone company of the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is in fact from the number displayed on Caller ID."

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Smaller providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers are not required to implement the technology for another two years. They have more time to evaluate the cost of implementing the blocking software and plan how they will deploy it.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told CNET recently that spammers are constantly creating new methods to subvert robocall prevention methods, making it difficult to eliminate them entirely.

"It ends up being a game of whack-a-mole," he said. "So the long-term solution is still difficult. We'll have to see how much progress we can make."

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By law, all phone companies must notify the regulators by Wednesday where they stand on implementing the technology.

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