New law aims to stop spam callers with hefty fines

Spamming is a nuisance that we are all familiar with. A new bill passed into US law might just make a difference in the drive to crack down on automated and phishing calls
FCC Commissioners
The Federal Communications Commission now has greater powers to prosecute scam callers. Image: FCC

Spam calls

Where there is a vulnerable person, there is a spammer not far away. Nuisance calls can vary from generally annoying sales calls, through to attempts at fraud.

There are more spam calls now than ever before. Worldwide, 26 billion spam calls were reported between January and October 2019. That is up in comparison to 17.7 billion in the same period the year before.

There are lots of schemes in place to combat this. But, frankly, none of them seems to work comprehensively.

Scammer solutions

A new bill was introduced in the US in November 2018. This aimed to bring into legislation The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.

The Act enables fines for robocalls to be up to $10,000 per call. The law also allows the FCC to prosecute illegal phone activity up to three years afterwards.

On Monday, President Trump signed the bill into law.

One of the interesting parts of this is that the Act looks to expedite rolling out call authentication technology. This will automatically block fake callers, and lessen the chance that an unwitting caller will fall victim to a scam.

Federal Trade Commission complaints log 2019
The Federal Trade Commission operates the Do Not Call directory. Image: FTC

Robot callers

We are all more conscious about phishing scams, but this doesn’t seem to stop more and more scammers trying their luck.

Using automated authentication technology could be just the answer we need. The TRACED Act will look at bringing in changes quickly throughout phone providers, to identify fake robotic calls before the phone ever rings.

This isn’t a new concept, and probably won’t solve the problem completely, but might act as a deterrent.

Shaken not stirred

Earlier in 2019, AT&T and Comcast entered into a partnership to authenticate calls made between their respective networks.

This was supported by a number of competitors and is a free service on the networks. Testing used a system called SHAKEN. It stands for Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited).

If a call is being made through a fake number, it will fail the ID verification process and be flagged as such. Likewise, the system works to authenticate genuine calls.

Telephone handset
There were 26 billion spam calls in the first nine months of 2019. Image: Flickr

Fines issued

Records of successful prosecution aren’t great. The FCC issued fines of $208.4 million in a 5 year period. Of those, they collected under $7,000. Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission has issued fines of $1.5 billion since 2004 but has collected $121 million of them.

Scammers and spammers obviously know the illegality of their actions and are taking ever-greater steps to avoid being identified.

It seems unlikely that these measures will stamp out fake or automated calls completely, but collectively having new legislation and greater powers to prosecute might gradually start seeing the number of fake calls declining.

That is, so long as preventative technology can keep pace with the scammers.

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