As mainstream technology continues to evolve and the way we use it changes, criminals find new ways to weaponize it against consumers. The more ways we have to communicate, the more ways fraudsters have to employ their scams. This is problematic because criminals can use techniques like robocalling as part of their scams to target people’s personal information, their money and assets, and even their identity.
Federal agencies, voice service providers (like Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.), and the U.S. government itself have worked together to crack down on robocalls, but so far success has been limited. Unfortunately, robocallers and other telecom fraudsters have managed to stay a step ahead of the laws and punishments that threaten their shady operations — which is why it’s crucial to have a reliable robocall-blocking app on your devices.
From its relatively brief past to its frantic present and much-anticipated future, here’s what you should know about the evolution of robocall-blocking technology.
Robocalls are annoying, sometimes dangerous, and seemingly everywhere, which makes you wonder: Where did robocalls come from, and how did they become so prevalent?
The history of robocalls can be traced back to the earliest forms of telemarketing in the mid-20th century. Although the folks calling their neighbors to sell goods in the 1960s didn’t use scripts read by robots or advanced technology to make mass calls — nor did cold-calling salespeople in the ‘80s and ‘90s — they did lay the conceptual groundwork for a spam problem they could not have comprehended.
Early telemarketing involved real people making cold calls in order to sell legitimate products or services, which took time, effort, and money. In other words, it was a real business and an honest enough way to make a living. However, technological advancements made it possible for anyone to make mass phone calls with automated voices reading a script, allowing a single fraudster to hit exponentially more targets over a fraction of the time.
Using modern tech and a corrupted telemarketing model, scammers became able to greatly increase the efficiency of their scams and the sizes of the rewards they could potentially reap. With today’s technology, anyone with a smartphone can launch their own phone scam empire with a few basic programs.
What we experience today may be the pinnacle of the spam, scam, and robocall problem, which means establishing effective solutions is more important than ever. By developing and refining spam-blocking technology, enforcing protocols nationwide, and educating consumers about how to protect themselves, we can hope to conquer the spam problem once and for all.
The U.S. government, its federal agencies and task forces, and voice service providers across the nation are constantly working together to crack down on spam, scams, and robocalls. Unfortunately, this battle is part of a war that started long before robocalls even existed.
Read ahead to learn about some of the major telecom industry efforts to prevent robocalls throughout history.
1934: Communications Act of 1934
1991: Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)
1995: Federal Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR)
2003: National Do Not Call Registry
2009: Truth in Caller ID Act
2017: Spoofing Prevention Act of 2017
2019: Operation Call it Quits
2019: Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act
2022: New Rules for Gateway Providers
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
While it may seem like we’re trapped in a cycle of robotic car warranty messages, many steps have been taken to fend off robocalls — we’d be even more swamped by them if they hadn’t. Unfortunately, as the way people communicate evolves, scammers find a way to capitalize. Eventually, the cycle continues: We introduce spam-blocking solutions, and scammers find new ways to run their ploys.
Although developments like answering machines, caller ID, and voicemail have helped people avoid annoying communications like robocalls, these devices can’t protect users from being targeted. Many pieces of legislation have been introduced to prevent unwanted calls and texts from getting through to consumers, but they’ve met some roadblocks as well.
Here are some of the most significant efforts that have emerged in robocall-blocking technology:
STIR/SHAKEN, a framework of two interconnected standards, is one of the most significant steps in the war against robocalls. The system was created as a result of the TRACED Act, and it seeks to reduce illegal robocalls by attaching signatures to caller IDs. These IDs are repeatedly validated as the call is transferred through different networks.
By validating calls with authenticated signatures, different carriers can verify each call as legitimate before they ultimately reach the consumer on the receiving end. This helps reduce “spoofing,” which is when a robocaller manipulates a target’s caller ID to make it seem like the call is coming from a different number.
STIR/SHAKEN requires each voice provider to implement their own robocall mitigation plan, or a system for preventing illegal robocalls from originating on their network.
Robocall mitigation plans may look different for different types of voice providers, but they generally have some combination of the following elements:
The necessity of robocall mitigation plans led to the creation of the Robocall Mitigation Database. This central database lists individual voice carriers and displays whether or not they have taken the necessary steps to become STIR/SHAKEN compliant.
The first step in blocking robocalls is being able to recognize them. Call analytics help spot robocalls so they can be added to robocall databases and stop them in their tracks.
Call analytics look at patterns — like how many calls originate from a given number per day, how long the calls last, or who they’re calling — to determine if the number in question belongs to a robocaller or other threat. Thanks to cutting-edge tech like artificial intelligence and machine learning, voice carriers are able to detect these patterns and more accurately predict whether a call is safe or not.
As we continue to develop and sharpen our robocall-blocking technology, call analytics may become more and more sophisticated.
The more you know about the caller, the better you can inform the consumer. Call labeling takes what we know about a call (given its analytics) and presents the information to the user.
If you’ve ever gotten a call that reads something like “Scam Likely,” “Potential Spam,” or “Spam Risk” on your caller ID, you’ve experienced call labeling before. It simply informs the user based on what the tech knows about the caller, allowing the user to decide whether to answer the phone or not.
Much like call analytics, call labeling may see significant improvements as technology helps spot robocalls more and more efficiently.
As much as has been done to combat robocalls and regain our privacy, there’s still plenty left to do. Criminals understand the tech, pay attention to the trends, and create new and unforeseen ways to scam the public — and they don’t take a day off. To break the cycle, we’ll need to step up our efforts as a whole.
It’s necessary to pass legislation to crack down on robocalls, but it often comes too late. So far, it hasn’t done much to deter fraudsters from overseas. With full cooperation between international governments, law enforcement agencies, and voice service providers, we may be able to get ahead of the scammers rather than continue to merely react to their schemes. On the same note, it may take some time for more recent measures to take full effect.
Additionally, more developed and advanced robocall-blocking technology may be critical in putting an end to these automated attacks. The better our tech recognizes and blocks robocalls, the better we can use it to protect our communities. There are already many spam-blocking apps on the market, and some effectively eliminate unwanted robocalls.
If you want to be proactive and not reactive in the fight against robocalls, you’ll need a top-tier spam-blocking app like Robokiller.
There are many apps out there that help keep scams, spam, and robocalls from buzzing your phone. However, they’re not all equally effective.
Robokiller leads the pack with must-have spam-blocking features like: