By Linda Vandeloop, AT&T AVP-Federal Regulatory
Last week, we submitted information to the Federal Communications Commission for its second annual Call Blocking Report. It was a good opportunity to take stock of our robocall efforts and think about what more can be done to protect consumers.
For such a major effort, we take a multi-pronged approach, and we appreciate our partnership with the FCC and others.
Making it easy for customers
Our wireless customers don’t have to do anything to get automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam alerts. It’s just there, working.
We enabled the service for millions of consumer and business lines in 2019. Over the past year, we’ve also added it to the rest of our customer categories – FirstNet, prepaid and wireless home phone. There’s no charge and no app needed, although you can download the AT&T Call Protect app to customize your settings.
Recently we tested our service against two other wireless providers. We looked at spam/fraud labeling on 50,000 calls. AT&T had the highest rate of accurate detection, and also the lowest rate of inaccurate detection – wrongly labeling a legitimate call as suspicious.
We all know that fraud calls still get through. It’s a constant challenge to keep up with determined criminals. So, we have a supplemental blocking program that works in the background. Our global fraud team uses artificial intelligence to examine billions of calls each day for patterns that indicate robocallers. Then they drill down on suspicious activity that may be illegal or forbidden, relying on their human fraud expertise before blocking.
This supplemental effort is important because it helps block fraud calls to every type of customer – including digital and traditional landlines.
Further, a blocking service called Digital Phone Call Protect is available free for customers of AT&T Phone, our digital home phone (VoIP) service. You can go into your account settings on myAT&T and turn it on. Customers with traditional home phone lines (POTS) have the option to purchase phones containing robocall blocking technology.
In total, AT&T has blocked or labeled more than 16 billion robocalls since 2016 – 6 billion in 2020 alone.
We’ll meet the FCC deadline of June 30 for call authentication among the major providers. This protocol, called STIR/SHAKEN, confirms that the caller ID is not illegally spoofed. It works across “Internet Protocol” networks like your wireless phone and VoIP landlines. While it won’t solve the problem of unwanted robocalls by itself, it is a key step toward giving customers greater confidence and control over the calls they receive.
Going after the bad guys
We were pleased to count at least seven federal enforcement actions against phone scammers in 2020 resulting from evidence gathered by AT&T. Claimed to be from the IRS? Busted. Told your parents they were from “tech support?” Busted.
Additionally, our work through a program called the Industry Traceback Group helped the FCC to propose a record $225 million fine for a spoofed caller ID robocall campaign to sell health insurance. The traceback group tracks suspicious traffic back to the source.
If you’ve never seen it, please join the million-plus people per year who visit att.com/CyberAware. In simple terms and lively graphics, we educate consumers about cyber fraud. We help them with better passwords and other tips, and we quiz their knowledge.
It’s still no fun to get a fraud call, but being educated can help you when you are distracted or tired and in danger of getting scammed.
Introducing AT&T ActiveArmor℠
All of these things amount to a campaign. And a good campaign needs a good name. Recently we’ve given the name AT&T ActiveArmor℠ to our company-wide security efforts, including robocall defense. It’s the combination of our 24/7 network protections, security apps, solutions and expertise. Together they place an active armor around our customers – to help protect them against cyber threats. There’s more to come.
What more needs to be done
We’ll keep improving our blocking and security tools, educating consumers and working with industry coalitions and enforcement agencies. We fully support the enforcement actions against bad actors. A small number of crooks can create a large part of the robocall problem. Let’s keep the pressure on them.