Student loans. Medical devices. Car warranties. Illegal robocalls are relentless. Far from the “good old days” of being interrupted at dinner with a call to your landline, the advance of technology now means that wherever you carry a cell phone, bad actors can find you. As artificial intelligence gets smarter, they might be able to even mirror a loved ones’ voice.
“Since last year, average monthly do-not-call complaints at the Federal Trade Commission are down 35%. Many fraud robocalls—like the criminals claiming to be from the Social Security Administration—are down as much as 80%.”
Often, these scams originate from overseas, part of vast criminal networks that stretch from India to the Dominican Republic to Hong Kong—mimicking US phone numbers and scamming millions from our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
When it comes to combatting illegal robocalls, there is good news to be found. Wireline, wireless, VoIP, and cable companies have come together to establish the USTelecom-led Industry Traceback Group. Collaborating with the Federal Communications Commission and other federal and state agencies, the group is leading the effort to trace, source and ultimately stop illegal robocalls—no matter where they originate.
Empowered by the FCC, providers are now blocking scores of illegal robocalls before they ever reach you, and labeling others as potential spam so you’re on guard if you answer.
Since last year, average monthly do-not-call complaints at the Federal Trade Commission are down 35%. Many fraud robocalls—like the criminals claiming to be from the Social Security Administration—are down as much as 80%.
While it can take foreign governments months—even years—to collaborate and enforce meaningful penalties across borders, private companies are now shutting down illegal robocalls as soon as they “step foot” onto the network. The result? Over 90% of completed tracebacks end with the offender warned or kicked off the network altogether.
American companies—from large Internet retailers to hospitality groups—are also benefitting from tracing efforts. As a result of the industry traceback data collected on scammers, earlier this year Marriott sued the perpetrators responsible for robocalls posing as the hotel chain, resulting in a virtual disappearance of their name from illegal robocalls. The Industry Traceback Group also is partnering with the financial sector to go after and stop more sophisticated and targeted fraud attacks.
Beyond financial harm to individuals and businesses, would-be criminals who threaten American lives are also being foiled thanks to call tracebacks.
In response to a request from an Indiana police department, the industry group initiated tracebacks of a series of spoofed calls that included bomb and mass shooting threats to a local high school in Valparaiso. Over the course of a few weeks, the group traced several calls within hours, helping the department locate the suspect and obtain evidence that led to their arrest. Without the traceback group’s assistance, it may have taken local authority’s months to build the same evidence and take action.
Despite these gains, the good guys can’t yet claim victory. While the numbers of fraud robocalls may be dramatically down, money lost to the fraudsters keeps rising. The unfortunate reality is that scammers are evolving alongside industry efforts. While they are no longer fishing with dynamite, they remain dangerously good at targeting individuals, including through hacked personal data and social engineering.
Moving forward, embracing more collaborative, network-wide solutions will be the key to staying one step ahead of the scammers. As players across the communications industry work together in real time with local, state, and federal law enforcement, it’s resulting in public-private collaboration that meaningfully impacts the lives of every person who uses a phone.
So, the next time you pick up a call and hear that dreaded pause, be comforted by the fact that illegal robocalls can no longer bother you with impunity. Phone providers are getting better at tracing their virtual fingerprints—and helping to pull the plug on would-be scammers everywhere.