By Linda Vandeloop, AT&T AVP-Federal Regulatory

An increasing percentage of fraudulent robocalls are using COVID-19 as bait, as scammers try to take advantage of the global health emergency.

The good news is that AT&T, along with others in the industry, have established mechanisms to identify illegal robocall campaigns and take steps to mitigate them.  Having these processes in place allowed us to quickly shift our focus to the scams with the COVID-19 hook.  And while we have observed that coronavirus-related calls represent more of the bad robocall traffic, we have not seen an increase in total suspicious robocalls across AT&T’s network – at least for now.

In fact, you might have noticed that robocalls are down. We were already seeing a drop from last year, thanks to the coordinated efforts of the FCC, law enforcement and industry.  But also, we believe that foreign call centers generating scam calls are closed or reduced by the coronavirus.  The volume of suspicious robocalls on our network was down 40% from March to April.

Here are some of the things we do to fight bad robocalls, virus or not.

We work closely with the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group and law enforcement to get to the source of illegal calls.  This has been and remains a very effective process.  It not only provides the information to stop the illegal robocall campaigns, it also puts service providers on notice that they need to take responsibility for the traffic that originates on their networks.  As a direct result of the group’s work, the FCC and FTC recently warned  several service providers,  “that unless these gateway providers stop bringing these calls into the United States… other phone companies will be able to begin blocking all traffic from these gateway providers’ networks.”

Implementation of the caller ID authentication standard known as STIR/SHAKEN continues to be a top priority and, today, we are filing comments with the FCC detailing our progress on this front and offering our support as the FCC addresses the complex details of implementation.

We were a leader in developing the STIR/SHAKEN standard and we were among the first to start deploying the standard in our network. And AT&T was one of the major providers that the FCC recognized as making progress on implementation in 2019, and we are continuing to deploy STIR/SHAKEN across our IP networks.  We supported the TRACED Act, which codified the implementation requirements with the help of the FCC, and we continue to be appreciative of all of the Commission’s  significant actions to promote robocall mitigation solutions throughout the ecosystem.

In 2016 we began offering our customers AT&T Call Protect – a call blocking and labeling tool – at no charge.  We recently added it automatically to millions of AT&T wireless customers. It’s a network-level service that automatically blocks suspected fraud calls. It also labels spam and other categories of calls, so you can choose whether or not to answer an incoming call.

Customers don’t have to do anything to make AT&T Call Protect work. But if they want to do more they can.  To block more unwanted calls, send them straight to voicemail, or customize the service, they can download our free accompanying app of the same name – AT&T Call Protect.  They can also use the app to report unwanted robocalls that get through to help us make our blocking services even stronger.  Just click on the bad call in the app’s call log.

In addition, we work continuously behind the scenes to monitor our network, investigate suspicious calling patterns, and take action to block calls when we find suspected illegal scams. Recently our global fraud team reached a new milestone: we’ve blocked 6 billion suspected illegal robocalls since the launch of our network analytics-based blocking program in 2016.  This program works across our network to protect home phones, business phones, wireless phones, and VoIP phones from the scourge of illegal robocalls.

We also work to protect our customers from abusive, illegal and unwanted text messages. Consumers can help by forwarding suspicious text messages, including coronavirus messages, to 7726 (SPAM) so we can investigate them.

Finally, the AT&T Mobile Security app can help protect against fake apps that may try to take advantage of the world crisis and provide alerts about data breaches.

For more information about COVID-19 robocall scams and how to protect yourself, please visit our Cyber Aware website.

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