Legislation to handle unwanted robocall issue on its way; but will it help?
Robocalls are America’s No. 1 consumer complaint, and it’s easy to see why. Americans got nearly 5 billion of the unwanted calls last month, nearly 2,500 every second.
But at long last, some relief could be on the way. President Donald Trump signed the TRACED Act last week, which gives phone companies the right to block unwanted calls.
But some cybersecurity experts tell Kane In Your Corner that while the legislation may help, it won’t solve the problem.
“With technology, because this is all digital, they’re going to find another workaround,” says Scott Schober, author of two books on cybersecurity.
The TRACED Act, sponsored by Democratic New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, takes aim at one of spammers’ favorite tactics, spoofing phone numbers to make calls appear to be local. Phone companies will be required to use technology known as STIR/SHAKEN to authenticate phone numbers using a “digital fingerprint.” Calls that don’t match up will be flagged and could be automatically rejected. The Federal Communications Commission still has to write rules determining when calls could be blocked.
But some experts aren’t convinced the technology will live up to the hype.
“I think people misunderstand what STIR/SHAKEN is,” says Ethan Garr, creator of the robocall blocking app, Robokiller. “It is not a panacea for the robocall problem as a whole.”
Garr predicts spammers will eventually develop technology to fool the authentication system, a phenomenon he calls “technology fighting technology.” Failing that, he says they can simply buy cheap blocks of real phone numbers that the system won’t detect. As a result, he contends there will always be a need for people to ignore the intrusive calls or invest in paid robocall blocking apps like his, which can adjust more quickly to changing technology.
The new legislation also increases the penalties for illegal robocalls, to up to $10,000 per call. But as Kane In Your Corner found in a weeklong investigation last year, enforcement is much harder than it seems.
“Unfortunately, the origin of most of these calls is overseas,” Schober says. “It’s hard to trace them down.”
And even if authorities do track down robocallers, the government has not had much success collecting fines. Since 2015, the FCC has fined robocallers more than $200 million, but the Wall Street Journal found they collected less than $7,000. That means for every $100,000 in fines imposed, the government received just three cents.
Kane In Your Corner podcast: Robocalls - listen here