Robocalls are a scourge, leaving many people reluctant or afraid to pick up their phone unless they know the caller. If you’re waiting for a job interview or a support callback, it’s extremely stressful, but now the phone companies are helping you.

New standards will unmask identity theft

If you have T-Mobile service and a Galaxy S9, you’ll soon start seeing “Caller Verified” when calls come in, if T-Mobile can verify that the caller ID matches the actual phone number. the Caller verified message means the call is from T-Mobile, and they can confirm that no spoofing or interception occurred on the call.

Call verification is based on a new standard called STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs). Not to be confused with Martini Preparation Instructions, SHAKE / SHAKE will allow telephone carriers to determine if the number with which a call identifies itself is real. Current caller ID technology has no method to determine if the information provided is accurate and STIR/SHAKEN will solve this problem.

And as more carriers implement STIR/SHAKEN, they will work together to make phone call verification happen even when they come from a different carrier.

Additionally, T-Mobile, Verizon, and others already offer blocking services that rely on crowdsourced blacklists. Blocking Robocaller has been free on AT&T since 2016, free on T-Mobile since early 2017, and now Verizon announced they will no longer charge for call screening from next March.

man in gray shirt uses blue samsung s9 plus

You may already have spam blocking

Crowdsource-based spam blocking software is already ubiquitous, and chances are you can subscribe to it with your carrier or download an app for your phone that will achieve the same goal. But the new STIR/SHAKEN standard will take more time to be fully implemented.

If you have T-Mobile and a Galaxy S9, you have early stages of the technology right now and “more devices” will get STIR/SHAKEN in 2019. Meanwhile, Verizon and AT&T promised to implement, but did not specify an exact timeline beyond 2019. Sprint made no such promises and instead questioned cost and effectiveness.

Apple, Google and other phone makers have not commented on any plans to help implement the standard. Microsoft supports SHAKEN / STIR and helped in its development. Although they no longer work on Windows Phone, they have an interest via Skype.

STIR/SHAKEN is similar to HTTPS

With STIR/SHAKEN in place, when a phone call is made, the first thing to do is attach a certificate that verifies the number assigned to the signal. Then, as it passes, that certificate is checked against an encrypted repository to verify its validity. If everything matches correctly, the service marks the call as verified. If not, the operator knows the number is a potential spoof.

What the carriers do next is their decision. They can mark the call as verified if any, show a possible scam message or block the call.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the process is very similar to how secure certificates work on web browsers. This also demonstrates a significant drawback. Just like a security certificate does not mean that a website is safe, a verified caller message does not prove that the phone call is not an automatic call.

If the bot calls from a legitimate number it purchased without any spoofing, the call will appear as verified. Hopefully crowdsourced listings and blocking will finally become useful at this point, because the calling bot won’t just change its number with every call.

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How to Block Spam Calls Right Now

If you’re not using a Galaxy S9 on T-Mobile and don’t want to wait for Verizon to offer its service for free, there are options you can use today. You can subscribe to Verizon’s call screening service until Verizon makes it free.

You can join the do not call list for what it’s worth – which doesn’t seem like a lot these days – and block numbers individually. On iPhones, you can download an app like Hiya that uses blacklists to identify fraudsters, which you can then report or block. On Android you have built-in options and you can also use a similar app like Mr.Number or Truecaller.

These crowdsource blacklist apps can unfortunately block legitimate calls, so keep that in mind if you frequently receive calls from unknown numbers.

It’s just a measure of peace

Unfortunately, true freedom from spam calls depends entirely on carriers to fix the problem. So far, they have been more than willing to make those calls, blaming others and existing laws.

The FCC called them about it, and it made a difference. But until the cost of scam calls outweighs the profits from them, spam callers will keep trying and hoping you’ll respond. Until better solutions arrive, the best thing to do is to ignore the calls.