How STIR/SHAKEN Technology Combats Scam Calls

The figures are grim. 1 in 3 Americans received a scam call in 2020. 59 million Americans lost close to $30 billion to phone scammers during the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat this epidemic of scam calls and mostly irrecoverable loss, Congress enacted the TRACED Act (Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act) in 2019. This legislation empowers the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to recruit all phone carriers in the US to improve caller safety.

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The FCC implemented the Act in stages. The agency required all major carriers in the US to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology by July 1, 2021. Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T have met this requirement as of June 30, 2021. Smaller phone carriers have until June 30, 2023 before they must fully be onboard. Until then, Americans continue to ignore calls from unknown callers. Or, use software to block spam robocalls. Still, the available software is not flawless. Spam calls still get through. Especially when the caller uses Caller ID spoofing to conceal their identity. More often, spam callers use Caller ID spoofing to make the number appear legitimate. Scam callers prefer this latter method because the call appears to be from a legitimate source, typically a nearby phone number with the same area code and exchange. Thus, an unsuspecting recipient is more likely to answer the call in hopes of talking to someone they know.

More recently – especially during the lockdown in 2020 – scammers spoofed their numbers to make it seem like a phone call from well-known government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or local police department. Scam callers who use this spoofing method, typically rely on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP allows voice calls using an Internet connection instead of a regular phone line. Legitimate businesses use VoIP as a cheaper alternative to making local, long-distance and international calls. However, scammers using computers or a special VoIP phone can equally make their calls appear to be from numbers from anywhere in the world.

By exploiting this technology, scammers can also impersonate banks, government employees, customer service, or businesses, and make the recipient disclose critical business information, including employee data, sensitive bank details and intellectual property. Worse still, they can easily get away with it – could get away with it. The best recourse available to phone owners who wish to avoid calls from spoofed VoIP numbers is call blocking.

What Is STIR Technology?

STIR/SHAKEN is another technology that changes everything for persons on compliant carriers, but this technology is not a silver bullet.The technology uses a suite of protocols and procedures intended to combat caller ID spoofing on mobile carriers’ networks. Short for Secure Telephony Identity Revisited, STIR adds a digital certificate to the Session Initiation Protocol information that callers use to initiate and route calls in VoIP. The digital certificate is like a pass. When a person makes a call, the VoIP service provider automatically examines the caller ID and compares it to a known list of trusted IDs they have provided to that specific customer. If it matches, the call goes through.

What Is The SHAKEN System?

Meanwhile, the SHAKEN system, short for Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs, is a suite of guidelines for public switched telephone networks. This technology exists to ensure scammers don’t bypass STIR and lets mobile carriers and law enforcement deal with users who have fake or missing STIR digital certificates.

How Effective Is STIR/SHAKEN In Reducing Scam Calls?

STIR/SHAKEN is very effective, but it is not a silver bullet because scammers can still change tactics or continue to use real numbers to make scam calls – only this time, it is easy to identify unknown callers on search engines like PhoneNumbers.org. Furthermore, it will be a while before STIR/SHAKEN really clamps down on existing VoIP numbers. The technology needs time to build a history of each number. Over time, STIR/SHAKEN will give carriers insights on scam numbers. It will also help mobile carriers accurately attest callers and build trust networks with other carriers. These take time. But in the end, there is no doubt about it. STIR/SHAKEN will significantly reduce the number of spam robocalls and scam calls from humans who target legitimate businesses and customers.

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