The Upgrade

Our Robocall Nightmare May Be Coming to an End

Phone spam is out of control, but relief is in sight

Lance Ulanoff
Published in
7 min readFeb 14, 2019

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty

MyMy phone vibrates and I glance at the screen, noting the call’s “917” area code — the same as my own number. “New York City,” I note. “Might be important.”

It’s not. It almost never is anymore.

The call is from a fake credit card company urging me to talk about lowering my interest rates. I grip the phone tightly and consider throwing it against a wall.

Later that day, my landline rings. Again, it’s a New York City number, and my caller ID lists it as “Apple, Inc.” Having dealt with fake Apple support before, I ignore it. But “Apple, Inc.” is persistent, eventually calling five times in one day. Finally, I pick up and inform them I’ll be contacting the FBI.

They back off — for now.

Later that day, I decide to call that number back. It resolves to the actual Queens, New York- based Apple Center, which has pre-recorded a message that says, “Apple is aware that some customers are receiving unsolicited calls claiming to be from this Apple center.” It recommends not giving out any information and tries to steer affected customers to support.

Spam, robo, and spoof calls, especially those that masquerade as calls from your local area code, reached crisis proportions on landlines almost two years ago. Now, according to some estimates, the same is about to happen to our mobile phones. A 2018 study conducted by First Orion, a scam protection provider, predicts “44.6 percent of calls to mobile phones will be scam calls in 2019.”

What First Orion described sounds to me like an epidemic, and one that needs some sort of immediate vaccine. A one-shot solution doesn’t exist, but hope does lie, as it so often does, in new technology.

It turns out that both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) have enforcement oversight for this problem, with each having jurisdiction over certain industries. It’s like a gentleman’s agreement: The FCC can bring actions in industries where the FTC does not have jurisdiction, like airlines and banks. While the FCC has specific anti-spoofing rules and can…

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Lance Ulanoff
OneZero

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.