Let's play a game. If you can read this entire article — read, not skim — without being interrupted by a robocall, you win. You don't get an actual prize, mind you, the reward is simply the satisfaction of knowing you could make it all the way through without having your attention diverted by a rage-inducing robo-scammer.
You know as well as I do that fighting robocalls is an uphill battle that gets more and more steep every year. Just look at the numbers. In 2018, Americans received over 25 billion robocalls. To put it another way, robocalls make up 50% of all phone calls made. The most surprising thing about that stats is that they're NOT surprising at all, and that's pretty sad.
But there might be hope on the horizon, as phone carriers are starting to finally make real attempts at stopping them. A couple of them just successfully completed a test that could one day stop one of scammers' favorite tactics: spoofed phone numbers.
Spoofed phone numbers
One of the most common practices now is for crooks to fake, or spoof, phone numbers. With easily-attainable hardware and software, scammers can not only call thousands of people or more at once, but they can illegally change the number that shows up on caller ID to whatever they want.
They can make it look like the IRS is calling, the police or maybe a big retailer. If they had enough of your info, they could even make it look like you mom was calling.
Bonus: If you've got one minute, listen to this recent Consumer Tech Update where Kim discusses robocalls and where they're all coming from.
What you'll see more often, though, are those spoofed calls with the same area code and possibly the same prefix as your own number. The general consensus among crooks is that if you see a number that seems more familiar, you're more likely to answer. But enough is enough.
AT&T CEO gets a robocall -- during a speaking engagement
It's a pretty big deal if you can get competitors to work together. With a common enemy, it's apparently it's not so difficult. Even AT&T's CEO got a robocall during a recent speaking engagement. Take a look:
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 20, 2019
For the past few years, a new system has been in the works that authenticates phone numbers. It's a protocol called Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) and Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR). Strange word combinations, but I guess they were dead-set on spelling out shaken and stir.
When a call comes in, the system will try to verify the legitimacy of the number through a digital signature. If it passes the test, you'll see some kind of verification on your screen. No verification, assume it's a robocall.
Some of the big carriers have been testing it, with T-Mobile rolling out a limited version earlier this year. The problem is, it'll only check numbers made through their own network.
But there was a breakthrough at the beginning of March. Earlier this week, AT&T and Comcast announced they successfully authenticated calls made between their two networks, calling it a major milestone. Not only that, but both companies will be ready toll out the service at some point later this year. The best part? It'll be free for their customers.
Other big names are supporting the SHAKEN/STIR protocol, too, like Charter, Cox, Google, Sprint, Verizon and Vonage. That's good, because the FCC wants all the major carriers to get the system in place before the end of the year. There's even a bill being considered in Congress to make it mandatory.
How you can stop robocalls
It sure sounds exciting but let's not get ahead of ourselves. First of all, it's not here yet and this test only involved calls between two of the big companies. Those partnerships need to expand to make it a viable service. Second, SHAKEN/STIR isn't necessarily going to slow down the number of calls you'll get, you'll just have a better idea about which ones to answer.
You still have other options. The most simple is to ignore the call, or quickly hang up. I know a natural reaction to these annoyances is to yell or troll the callers, and even though it might bring you some joy it could also backfire. If you engage them, that just tells the scammers you've got a live, working phone number - which could increase the number of calls you get.
If you see repeat numbers, block them. You can even reject some of those calls automatically if you have a landline.
If you're a customer of one of the big four carriers, they offer call-blocking tools but at an extra monthly charge. Learn more about options through each carrier and standalone apps like Nomorobo by clicking here. Check out more of our coverage on the robocall epidemic here.
You might also consider signing up for the Do Not Call registry if you haven't already, but it might as well be called the Keep Calling registry for all the good it does.
Is your area code a hot number for robocalls?
Robocalls are the bane of our digital existence, and you might be surprised to learn that where you live affects the number of calls you get.