August 12, 2020

Robocalls are Declining, Are Your Business Calls Being Blocked Too?

2020 is a difficult period for many businesses, but those that rely on outgoing calls are suffering from an especially tough combination of problems. The implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN framework and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit the industry hard. And while the purpose of STIR/SHAKEN is to reduce illegal robocalls, it has negatively impacted legitimate business communications. While annoying calls and robocalls decline, much to the delight of consumers, this reduction comes with a cost.

STIR/SHAKEN Blocking Business Calls

Robocalls Decline

Robocalls are declining. In the month of May, statistics show that the number of robocalls reached a two-year low. Major organizations are seeing significant drops in this type of call.

In April, robocalls were down 40% from February. While US government action is given credit for part of this reduction, COVID-19 related call center closings, particularly in India, Pakistan and the Philippines, account for the greatest drop in the numbers. Many call center workers in these countries do not have the equipment to work from home. As such, operations have all but ceased for some robocall businesses.

Major telecom companies are making active efforts to enforce STIR/SHAKEN. Verizon alone reports a 30% drop in these calls. The company credits its call filter app and the pandemic for this reduction. YouMail also reports significant progress in this area with a 16% drop in total robocalls. In addition, the FCC is reporting a 60% drop in robocall complaints from May 2019 and May 2020.

Although the overall decline is promising, the problem is far from over. STIR/SHAKEN allows the caller's telecom provider to attach certification information to their calls. This allows call recipients to identify the caller, but not all companies have employed the technology as yet. As a result, robocallers can still easily use spoofing to disguise the origin of their calls.

Autodialers and AI-generated responses are also powerful robocall tools that will take time to control. According to experts, we are several years away from eliminating bad robocalls.

COVID-19 Scams

The current pandemic has actually inspired new robocall threats. The FCC has acted to shut down robocalls that promote COVID-19 scams, some of which target citizens' stimulus payments. Other schemes have gone after workers' unemployment benefits or offered false COVID-19 testing or vaccines. In April, the FTC and FCC warned gateway service providers to stop these scam calls that preyed on Americans' fear of the virus.

Legitimate Robocalls

Although the total number of robocalls is declining, legitimate robocalls such as those made from hospitals, schools and government organizations are on the rise. More consumers are answering these calls, partly because they need information about school closings and test results. However this is also partly due to their lessening fear of illegitimate robocalls. Consumers simply feel safer about picking up the phone.

Call Blocking Rule for STIR/SHAKEN

The implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN Act and other recent governmental regulation has had desired effects but also threatens some legitimate businesses. In fact, the Call Blocking Rule has been clarified by the FCC to include more the following:

  • Establishes a "safe harbor" from liability from carriers that block calls "based on reasonable analytics" as long as they use STIR/SHAKEN call authentication framework account information. This addition/clarification allows telecom companies to act more aggressively against robocall centers.
  • Establishes another safe harbor for those providers to block "bad-actor voice service providers" who intentionally or "negligently" allow unwanted calls through their networks.
  • Force blocking providers to offer companies a single point of contact so they can investigate and resolve "unintended or inadvertent blocking". This last provision is offering some comfort to businesses who felt they had little recourse from erroneous flags and blocks.

Although the first two provisions make it possible to block more bad actors, these protections from litigation may also put legitimate businesses in danger. They mean blocking providers can make more mistakes without penalty, a potential problem for legitimate companies.

Business Protections for STIR/SHAKEN

The FCC will be fine-tuning their robocall regulations for some time. They are looking at potential changes this month, in fact. While the STIR/SHAKEN framework is rolling out, some businesses may encounter issues with erroneous flags and blocks. The best protection for your company is to stay abreast of current interpretations of the laws via the FCC website and to monitor your phone numbers. Regularly scanning your numbers can reveal if they have been flagged or if spoofers are using your numbers to make illegal calls.

Constant vigilance is really the only way to ensure that you are not being unfairly targeted. If you are being victimized, then you must contact the blocking provider and try to resolve the issue. Fortunately, the FCC has simplified that process with the single point of contact rule.

Final Note

The US economy is still roiling, and with a resurgence of COVID-19 in many states, the near future is not bright. Your business cannot afford to be mislabeled an illegal robocaller in this climate. The numbers of robocalls are way down in 2020, but it's unclear how much of that decrease is due to the virus or and how much to the new laws. In any event, it is a turbulent time in the business world.

Fortunately, the FCC is mandating a single contact point for blocking carriers. That will allow you to more easily investigate your status and learn if your number or numbers have been blocked. The FCC is looking at more TCPA issues this month, and more updates are expected. This summer and fall, focus on clearing up your phone issues so when the economy recovers, you will not be held back by blocked business numbers.

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