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Robocalls: Good guy vs Bad guy

Tired of robocalls? Who isn't. I barely answer my cell phone unless it's from someone I know. With the usage of cell phones in the US rising substantially over the past decade, consumers have seen a sharp rise in the number of spoof and robocalls they receive.

46% of Americans receive spam every day, that’s 46 billion robocalls in 2020 alone.

  • 175,699,527 per working day
  • 122,014 per minute
  • 2,034 per second

Ouch! Add to that, robocall scams make headlines almost daily. Just Google “robocall scam” and you’ll get pages and pages of results. But what about the good-guy robocalls? Wait, good-guy robocalls? Yes! There are LOTS of occasions in which businesses and organizations might conduct good, or even emergency robocalls, such as:

Robocalls blogLocal emergency alerts: A gas leak in a neighborhood, water contamination, or when extreme weather is headed into a community, such as those needing immediate evacuation notifications due to the recent California fires.

Affordable housing / apartment management notifications: In today's world, tenants expect more. With so many ways to get in touch with tenants, large scale apartment complexes from luxury to affordable housing are offering several options to get the best results out of the landlord-tenant relationships. Sending out mass text, and/or voice messages, combined with email, makes it easier than ever for property management teams to more effectively reach their residents.

Health alerts: The ongoing health crisis requires the fast dissemination of information. Additionally, the healthcare industry also relies on robocalls for medical appointment and care reminders (ie. taking meds, wellness check-ins and post op).

That’s a pretty sizable amount of calls that are legitimate. Unfortunately, spoofing and bad-guy robocalls are Crushing Reputable Businesses.

Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsified the information transmitted to your Caller ID display to disguise their identity. Scammers often use neighbor spoofing so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number, or they spoof a number from a company or a government agency that you may already know and trust.

Congress passed the TRACED Act on December 30, 2019, with its primary goal to combat the rising number of malicious and illegal phone calls and text messages in the US. STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs) is a framework that aims to regain and strengthen consumer trust in the communications industry by combatting Caller ID spoofing, helping protect consumers from falling victim to malicious activity, fraud and abuse.

Without getting too technical, STIR/SHAKEN uses digital certificates, based on common public key cryptography techniques, to attest whether the calling phone number, the Caller ID, is genuine. Each phone service provider obtains their own digital certificate from a trusted authority, and the certificate technology enables the recipient to decide whether the Caller ID is legitimate and has not been spoofed.

Now, what about the good-guy robocalls? Well, unfortunately for businesses legitimately communicating with their customers, plain voice-only robocalls may not be enough. The solution may be a reputable CPaaS (Communication Platform as a Service). A CPaaS is a cloud-based delivery model that focuses on enhancing communication channels by allowing organizations and businesses to add various features to their existing applications. The CPaaS market is forecast to grow from $4.2 billion in 2019 to $17.7 billion in 2024.

Added capabilities, like voice calls and SMS, can be deployed through easy-to-use communication APIs (Application Program Interfaces), presenting highly-attested, legitimate Caller IDs, thus making it easy for the recipients to identify the calling business, and elicit a response.

Now, reputable CPaaS providers are committed to the fight against bad-guy robocalls, and have taken steps to raise the bar for high quality, good-guy robocalls (e.g. appointment reminders, emergency notifications) by implementing STIR/SHAKEN Caller ID full attestation. Time will tell whether STIR/SHAKEN has helped with spoofing and unwanted robocalls.

However, some CPaaS providers have further upped the ante by implementing AI-AMD (AI-driven Answering Machine Detection). This, with over 99% accuracy (compare the 94-95% industry norm), translates to a big reduction in silent calls, one cause of which is AMD misclassifying a human answering as a machine, meaning that good, useful robocalls may be construed as bad-guy robocalls by those picking up the phone.

Keep in mind that STIR/ SHAKEN applies to phone calls only. However, work is ongoing in the communications industry to reduce bad-guy SMS usage, for example The Campaign Registry for 10 digit long code (10DLC) messaging.

While bad-guy robocalls continue to be a problem, what can you do?

If you’re a business or organization which places automated calls to inform your customers:

  • Choose a CPaaS which has implemented STIR/SHAKEN;
  • Ideally use a Caller ID purchased through that CPaaS, resulting in the highest level of attestation for that number;
  • Ensure that calls placed to that number are answered, with a brief explanation to the caller of what the service does;
  • Choose a CPaaS with very accurate AMD, resulting in fewer silent calls.

If you’re on the receiving end of unwanted or bad-guy robocalls:

Register both your cell and landline numbers with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call List AND Report each and every violation on the FTC’s website. Unfortunately only legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

About Aculab

Aculab is a global provider of advanced speech and signal processing technologies for use in telecommunication applications. The company offers deployment-proven options for many automated communications-related systems. Its wide range of platforms serves the evolving needs of systems integrators, whether for on-premise, data centre hosted, or cloud-based solution delivery.

Aculab offers development APIs for voice, advanced speech, fax, data, and SMS, on hardware, software and cloud-based platforms, giving users the choice between capital investment and cost-effective, ‘pay as you go’ alternatives.