T-Mobile expands ‘Call Verified’ service to combat spammers and robocalls

T-Mobile is adding its Caller Verified program to more smartphones in the coming weeks. The carrier announced it would be expand the program, which alerts customers if incoming calls are likely to be spammers or robocalls, on upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10 phones and LG phones. 

Instances of spam callers and robocalls have steadily increased over the years as spammers have grown their technical prowess to trick unsuspecting consumers into answering their phone calls. Neighborhood spoofing, in which spammers are able to match area codes and the first three digits of a spam phone number to the geographic areas of their targets, has become one of the most popular methods employed by spammers. 

According to call management and software firm First Orion, spam calls have ballooned in the past two years. Spam calls accounted for just 3.7% of all phone calls made to smartphones in 2017. But in 2018, 29% of all calls to mobile phones were spam. That number is expected to reach 44% during the first months of 2019.

Phone spamming has become a lucrative con, especially during the tax season. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) logged over 12,716 victims who have collectively paid over $63 million as a result of phone scams since October 2013.

Industry groups ATIS and SIP Forum have tackled the issue with a pair of protocols: the Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR), which use digital certificates and public key cryptography techniques. Together, these protocolsoften referred to as STIR/SHAKEN standardsuse digital certificates to ensure the incoming call phone number is coming from the proper device. Operators obtain a digital certificate from a third-party certificate authority, which is then used to ensure that a phone call is originating from a device that is registered to that number. 

ATIS launched the Secure Telephone Identity Governance Authority (STI-GA) late last year to support the deployment of the STIR/SHAKEN protocol and framework across the industry. Representatives from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon sit on the STI-GA. 

RELATED: TNS uses big data, machine learning to foil robocalls

Meanwhile, the situation for consumers had become so dire that FCC chairman Ajit Pai, along with a group of technology firms including First Orion, called on wireless carriers in the U.S. to adopt and implement the new measures to combat spam calling and robocalls.

“By this time next year, I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones,” said Chairman Pai in a November 2018 release. “Carriers need to continue working together to make this happen, and I am calling on those falling behind to catch up.”

While all the major carriers voiced support for the protocols and framework, T-Mobile was the first to bring a solution to market that uses the STIR/SHAKEN protocols. 

T-Mobile launched the Caller Verified program in January 2019, but only on the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. The service will be added to Samsung Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, as well as LG G8 ThinQ and LG Aristo 3. A spokesperson for T-Mobile said those updates will roll out throughout 2019. Support for the program is added to the phone through a software update. When asked whether T-Mobile would bring the program to older phones with larger installed bases, the spokesperson responded, “We are working with partners to push to more phones in 2019.”

AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have said they’ll roll out STIR/SHAKEN protocols throughout their networks sometime in 2019. Those three carriers already offer some spam and robocall blocking services to customers. Verizon announced in January 2019 that it would begin offering free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of its wireless customers with smartphones that can support the features. 

RELATED: T-Mobile and Verizon adopt FCC standards to block robocalls

In an email to FierceWireless, a Verizon spokesperson said Verizon has implemented STIR/SHAKEN in “portions” of the company’s wireless network and is working closely with other service providers to facilitate STIR/SHAKEN signatures between networks. 

At present, the Caller Verified program only works if the customer has a Samsung Galaxy S9 phone and is receiving a phone call from another T-Mobile subscriber. It will take more providers with STIR/SHAKEN protocols in place to offer customers spam alerts on calls coming from different wireless carrier networks.