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Discussion – 


Discussion – 


Robocallers vs. Backronyms

robocalls come to an end

If you get a lot of spam calls, you’re not alone. We certainly get a bunch of ’em ourselves (we don’t even want to think about where our phone numbers have gotten) and so the headline of this article teased us real good:


Will we actually love what’s coming?

Nah. You probably won’t notice much difference after June 30.

Still… what’s coming as of June 30?

That’s when U.S. phone companies are required to have implemented a technology called Stir/Shaken, which authenticates caller ID info and makes it harder for robocallers to spoof people.

What is “spoofing”?

It’s where a phone scammer fabricates the caller ID info you see when they call you. So the scammer could be a guy named George in Las Vegas (area code 702), but if he’s spoofing people, he could make it look like he’s Tammy calling from the Louisville area (area code 502).

Or whatever he wants the caller ID to say, even if he’s making it different for every single spam call he makes (which is surprisingly easy to manage in our computer-driven age).

How does “spoofing” help phone scammers?

Well, first: have you noticed that a lot of spam calls have phone numbers that look like your phone number? This is a common spoofing tactic because people are statistically likelier to pick up calls from “local” numbers (notwithstanding the Millennial irony that area codes now represent where you’re from, not necessarily where you are or who’s likely to call you).

The scammers don’t actually own the phone number you see, nor are they hijacking the number from its real owner (if any). No matter where they’re calling from, they’re showing you a “fake ID” with a phone number deliberately made like yours so you’re likelier to pick up or call back.

But how can we “love what’s coming as of June 30” if we’re not likely to notice much difference afterwards?

Super-condensed answer in two pieces: the headline lied to our faces and phone scammers are a persistent bunch.

A lot of the experts say that cracking down on phone scams is like playing Whack-a-Mole; as soon as you close one of their avenues, another opens up. Sadly, implementing Stir/Shaken isn’t likely to change much even if it does its intended job perfectly—and a lot of carriers have already implemented it, or started to, before the deadline.

We say the headline lied to our faces because of the two facts in the previous sentence, taken together. Which is a shame, because the content beneath the headline is pretty decent and now we have trust issues with CNET.

How are phone scammers so persistent? Why is this so hard to fix?

In a word: profitability. It’s pretty cheap to make any number of phone calls (even billions of them) when they’re automated, at which point phone scammers can tap virtually every shoulder in the developed world. Their ROIs can be tremendous even if their conversion rates are total dog s**t — so they have the incentive and, in many cases, the resources to continue iterating.

So what is Congress doing about it?

Well, have you heard of backronyms?

A backronym is when you start with the acronym you want, then go back and figure out which words will fit it. Legislators use a lot of backronyms because (in fairness to them) they’re caught between “well, I have to name this bill something” and “it won’t get any attention if the name isn’t cool.”

But yes, there are a LOT of backronyms in Congress, and most of them are just… bad. No matter the theme of the acronym—patriotic, fear-mongering, layperson’s slogan, James Bond reference, whatever—the words chosen to fill those initials rarely ever make coherent sense, much less “flow together” like it’s natural. The worst of them just sound like lunacy.

While reading the same CNET article, it dawned on us that the three main answers to the above question are all flagrant backronyms.

So let’s list them:

STIR/SHAKEN = Secure Telephone Identity Revisited / Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs

TRACED (Act) = Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (Act)

DO NOT (Call Act) = Deter Obnoxious, Nefarious, and Outrageous Telephone (Call Act)

S.H.I.E.L.D. = Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division

Oh wait. That last one is from the Marvel universe. But you get it.

robocalls picture

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