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Stir/Shaken; New Technology to Deter and Stop Robo-callers

The new technology has already been implemented by some carriers earlier in the year, and major phone companies such as T-Mobile, Verizon and cable-provider Comcast are now putting the new tech into place

The 30th of June this year marked a transformative part in the way robocallers are handled in the US. In 2019 an Act called TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) was made to be law by Pres. Donald Trump. The basis of this law is that all voice/telephone service providers have a mandatory duty to implement the new Stir/Shaken technology within 18 months. This technology is a new way of making it more difficult for robocallers to hide their identify when scam-calling, by authenticating where the phone call originates from and ensuring it is validated by other carriers before it is then put through to the consumer. Basically, making sure the information on the caller ID matches where the call is coming from.

Spam, scam and spoof calls have been the bane of many people lives, increasingly so over the past couple of years. They are becoming more regular and seemingly fooling more people into being defrauded each year, especially the elderly and vulnerable. When callers disguise their identity and or origin by showing false information to the caller ID screen you see, it’s called spoofing, which is one of the main parts that this new tech is going to help curb. Spoofing is done so the scammers doing this aren’t as easily traceable, and they can even make it appear as though the number is local to you and someone who has already called you before or a number you think you recognise. The Truth in Caller ID Act, the FCC prohibits misleading or inaccurate caller ID with the intent to cause harm and defraud, and illegal spoofers can face fines of up to $10,000 per each law violation. Sometimes spoofing is necessary and legal under very specific circumstances, for things such as doctors discussing private medical issues, or victims of domestic abuse.

So, what is the Stir/Shaken technology? “Stir” stands for "secure telephone identity revisited," and "Shaken" for "signature-based handling of asserted information using tokens." The Stir part is the technical protocol and Shaken is the framework of which calls will be tracked and recorded in a new mitigation database for robocalls. The new technology has already been implemented by some carriers earlier in the year, and major phone companies such as T-Mobile, Verizon and cable-provider Comcast are now putting the new tech into place. Ensuring all carriers and companies have the Stir/Shaken technology will be an ongoing process for a while to ensure it is deployed correctly. One of the main issues, or obstacles, is the fact that the scammers who use spoofing and robocalls always come up with new ways to get around regulations like this, and are constantly changing the way they do things to make it harder for them to be traced and tracked down, it’s an endless game that might not be completely won over for years to come unfortunately. These calls are often cheap to make, and as it’s automated thousands of calls can be made per minute, per hour, per day.

"It ends up being a game of whack-a-mole," FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in an interview with CNET in May. "So, the long-term solution is still difficult. We'll see how much progress we can make."

In the US this year there were reports of just under 22 billion robocalls in the first five months of the year, and a company that specialises in blocking these calls, YouMail, has reported it’s on pace to hit over 52 billion for this year. The FCC has been rigorously chasing up these robocallers and delivering cease-and-desist letters to any carriers that facilitate these scams, and even fining illegal robocallers that they are able to track down. One of these fines was from the FCC to Texas telemarketers, who had spoofed around 1 billion robocalls - they got a fine for around $225 million. As many companies are implementing the new Stir/Shaken technology, it is becoming easier for the FCC to track down the carriers that transmit these illegal calls and will get easier over time as the carriers meet their deadlines for the implementation.

"We need to use every tool we have to get these junk calls off of our networks," acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement in May.

"From these new cease-and-desist letters to STIR/SHAKEN implementation to large fines and our robocall mitigation database, we are going to do everything we can to protect consumers from these nuisance calls," Rosenworcel said. "We're not going to stop until we get robocallers, spoofers, and scammers off the line."

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