Author(s): Raghu Gopal
US residents know phone scams well: generous trip giveaways, people impersonating tax authorities, immediate utility payments required — the list goes on. Scammers specialised in social engineering have made answering the phone a risky business.
With 2.4 billion "robocalls" every month affecting one in 10 US adults, the Federal Communications Commission wants telecommunication service providers to target and block calls from fake or suspect phone numbers. In the meanwhile, the regulator is proposing new rules that would allow such calls to be blocked at the originating end. This would change the long-standing rule of allowing judgement-free access to the telecommunication network.
While the regulator's new rules are being finalised, T-Mobile US announced two solutions enabling subscribers to identify and block phone scams. The tools, called Scam ID and Scam Block, warn customers that an incoming call is suspicious and enable them to block future calls from the same number.
T-Mobile is offering its subscribers free access to both tools. The carrier claims that its scam protection technology is created at the infrastructure level, meaning that it's available to any phone connected to its network.
When someone calls a T-Mobile number, the system analyses the call and checks it against a database of known scam numbers. The list is maintained by a company called PrivacyStar and is available to other service providers as well. T-Mobile claims the process takes milliseconds to complete. The database is updated in real time, analysing every call that hits T-Mobile's network and flagging known and potential scammer numbers.
Google has created a similar filtering service and included it in the software of its Pixel smartphones to warn users about potential spam calls. In such cases, it displays a red alert on the screen and customers can then reject the call and block the number. Google Voice, the company's service for making voice calls over the Internet, also allows users to block and tag possible fraudsters, providing Google with a database of suspicious phone numbers.
Late in 2016, AT&T began offering its post-paid subscribers a spam-call blocking service for users of smartphones enabled with voice-over-LTE technology. Sprint and Verizon support specific number blocking, a feature not particularly useful in fighting pervasive scam callers.
Given how relentless the problem has become, it's surprising that scam protection hasn't become a high-priority feature in the market. There's no doubt that this is work in progress, but for now T-Mobile's efforts are addressing demand — practically nobody escapes the unyielding calls from tricksters.
T-Mobile's spam protection tools will be available from 5 April 2017. Users will welcome solutions to address the problem. For T-Mobile, the tools may not boost revenue — they are provided free of charge — but there's certainly a goodwill aspect here. The indicator to watch will be churn. The carrier's efforts could give subscribers another reason to stick around.