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Combating Fraudulent Calls With Labeling and Blocking

Robocalls – what a pain, what a distraction. My home phone can register 250 blocked phone numbers; not enough to block them all! A robocaller can use multiple caller IDs to send the same spam message multiple times on any given day.
 
As with any technology, blocking phone numbers can have adverse consequences. What if the label is incorrect? Can labeling be used against a person or company?
 
To get some insight into call labeling and blocking, I contacted Bryce Payne, VP of business development, TCN, to discuss the matter. TCN is a leading provider of cloud-based call center technology for enterprises, contact centers, BPOs, and collection agencies worldwide.
 
The State of Robocalling, Is It All Spam?
We started our conversation with a look at the state of robocalling today. Since people are receiving an "onslaught of fraudulent robocalls," many are just not picking up their phones, said Payne. However, he went on to remind me that it's not all spam that "many legitimate businesses can utilize the technology" for things like appointment reminders, service outages, and even emergency notifications. "Unfortunately, it is the ‘bad actors’ that are creating a problem for everyone else," said Payne.
 
Below we went on to discuss the role of the FCC, how to deal with mislabeling, and the impact of mislabeling on enterprises.
 
End users have some solutions available but are they sufficient?
The solutions available are helpful but can also be a double-edged sword. Each carrier, phone company, and mobile phone app has created various “solutions” for identifying and blocking unwanted calls, but like any technology, it’s not perfect. The concern with these end-user solutions is the blocking of legitimate phone calls from companies that have consent to call but have been incorrectly labeled as fraud, spam, or scam.
 
What is the FCC’s role in enforcing call blocking?
As consumer complaints to the FTC and FCC continue to increase, the industry moved toward more aggressive solutions to combat both “illegal” and “unwanted” calls. The initial step was to require the carries to develop a system for identifying “unwanted” calls and labeling them as possible fraud or scam. The next step is to require a type of token authentication of the call, known as SHAKEN/STIR, which is in the process of being implemented across the carrier network to cut down on the illegal spoofing of phone numbers.
 
In addition to SHAKEN/STIR initiatives taking place across the industry, the FCC’s call to action on carriers to implement more robust robocall identification strategies has been picking up a lot of steam. This has been especially true over the last few months in reaction to the FCC’s June Declaratory Ruling allowing carriers the ability to block calls by default.
 
What recourse is available to deal with mislabeled phone numbers?
By certifying a call originator as a “Trusted Entity” and registering the entity’s phone numbers with the various carriers and labeling ecosystem, it can reduce the possibility of those numbers being red-flagged. Furthermore, through the completion of the certification and registration process, any erroneous “scam” or “fraud” labels associated with a Trusted Entity’s phone numbers will be removed.
 
Our certification and registration solution extends across the top carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, along with their analytics partners, including some of the top apps, such as Hiya and YouMail. This aggregated view of call labeling data across the ecosystem gives businesses the visibility and control they need to improve the accuracy of number labeling to drive more effective call delivery strategies.
 
As the call labeling industry works to improve the accuracy of its technologies, along with the speed and agility to address the erroneous or improper blocking of legal calls, TCN has forged a path to associate trust in a legal calling entity’s phone numbers to further improve call presentation and contact rates.
 
Where does SHAKEN/STIR fit into this picture?
SHAKEN/STIR will validate that an incoming call is being placed on a real phone number, and the person calling is authorized to use the phone number. However, an additional layer of trust is needed in the verification process to assure consumers the phone number being used is real, the caller is authorized to use the number, and the originating caller is a legal, trusted entity. The second layer of caller identification will be determined through a process called attestation.
 
How does call labeling work? Can there be issues with mislabeled phone numbers?
Call labeling works similarly to a background check. For example, TCN, through its partners, runs a registration process that verifies the company is a legitimate and legal entity. In addition, all registered phone numbers are called to ensure they’re all legitimate numbers that ring back to where they are supposed to ring. This is then certified with the various carriers and monitored on a monthly basis.
 
No system is perfect, and since all of the “labeling” relies on various algorithms, there is always a possibility for a number to be mislabeled. The best defense against mislabeling is to register all phone numbers with the labeling ecosystem and regularly monitor the status. Doing a monthly phone number health check can help a business know if their numbers are being flagged.
 
What will be the impact of mislabeled phone numbers on businesses, survey organizations, charities, political organizations, and 911 calls?
Mislabeling phone numbers presents a number of challenges for businesses and organizations relying on the voice channel to communicate with consumers, especially when no previous relationship with the consumer exists.
 
It’s unclear how businesses will react to new functionality, but the potential for disruption in communication is high. Considering most true emergency calls originate from a number of consumers who don’t often interact with could result in an increased likelihood that consumers will silence these unknown calls by default. This example highlights a severe risk of consumers missing and/or ignoring critical, life-saving information by mistake.
 
Apart from life-threatening circumstances, there are many situations that fall into the category of annoyance, and are correlated with the recent iOS 13 update (or apps like RoboKiller). Think about the many times have you soldiered through an IVR menu to speak to a customer service representative, to then be placed in a queue and instructed to wait for a callback. Imagine your frustration when you’re not even given the opportunity to answer the call but left with the only option of waiting for the voicemail and then dialing back into the system to start the process all over.
 
When will the carriers complete their blocking efforts?
AT&T was the first to go on record in early July 2019, stating they’ve already started to block calls identified as “fraudulent” on their network. It’s believed the other top carriers will soon be moving in the direction of default blocking calls based on “reasonable analytics.” These default blocking decisions are derived from several third-party call analytics companies who have developed algorithms to identify potential risks associated with answering an incoming call.
 
Furthermore, this September, Apple and Google both announced plans to release operating software in the future that will not only silence, but block, fraudulent, and spam callers.

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