What the Tech? The FCC Announces New Plan to Stop Robocalls

If last year’s pandemic lockdowns gave us one good thing, it was a decrease in the number of ‘robocalls’ from spoofed phone numbers.

Since call centers were forced to close there was no one to pick up the phone to talk to someone who was tricked into answering a robocall.

But now that call centers are open again, the number of robocalls is back to pre-pandemic levels with no sign of slowing down.

In its efforts to cut down on the number of robocalls going out, the FCC announced Tuesday a new plan that puts the responsibility onto cellular providers.

The Robocall Mediation Database is a comprehensive list of companies providing voice services that agree to block spam and spoofed calls. According to the FCC, providers will be required to file certifications to the database along with detailed information of how they plan to block calls implementing the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID framework.

STIR/SHAKEN is a technology platform that confirms a call is being made from the number that appears on your smartphone. You’ve most likely received a call from a local number that turns out to be a robocall from a company that may or may not even be located in the United States.

When someone answers a call from one of those numbers, someone in the call center (wherever that may be) gets online to pitch whatever it is the company is selling or attempt to talk the consumer into giving them a credit card number or personal information.

STIR/SHAKEN has been available for several years but cellular providers have not implemented it due to concerns they could be sued by legitimate businesses using robocalls.

In 2019 the FCC offered cellular providers a “safe harbor” to use the technology. In other words, the providers could not be sued for blocking the calls if it was determined they were being made from an unverified number.

Still, the technology is not widely in use. Many experts believe STIR/SHAKEN is the best hope at blocking spoofed numbers.

The FCC released information and opened the database for voice service providers to register.

Consumers can see the database here.

The FCC announced that by September, cellular providers must block calls from companies that are not included in the database and therefore have not registered and implemented the STIR/SHAKEN framework.

If a call goes out from a non-verified number and is not blocked by the provider, the FCC will hold the provider accountable. The release does not state any consequences the provider may face.

Consumers do not need to do anything for the new rules to block calls though you may want to register for the Do Not Call List if you haven’t done so already.

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