Task Force Reports Some Success in Stopping Phony Virus Robocalls

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A telecom-industry task force says it has identified and cut off a barrage of virus-related calls it suspected were phony, with help from federal agencies, the Wall Street Journal reports. Scam phone calls pitching bogus coronavirus tests, phony remedies and nonexistent economic aid have proliferated dring the COVID-19 pandemic. The alleged scams included pitches for free testing kits, work-from-home jobs with Amazon.com and cleaning of air ducts supposedly to fight the virus. Phone companies shut down the accounts where the calls originated after being notified, said officials from USTelecom, a trade industry group, and the Federal Communications Commission.

It’s rare for authorities to act on a stream of robocalls so quickly, said Kevin Rupy, a communications lawyer who previously worked at USTelecom. “Rapidly identifying the source of these calls and getting them shut down—that is a game changer,” he said. Starting around March 16, TNS Inc., a robocall-tracking firm, saw daily volume of unwanted robocalls drop as much as 40 percent compared with the previous week. On March 13, YouMail said it detected a wave of dubious phone calls mentioning the virus. “If you want to receive a free testing kit delivered overnight to your home, press one,” said a voicemail. The trail led to a phone company in the Philippines. Within 24 hours, the provider identified the customer and disabled/removed the account. Things might have played out differently a year ago. The traceback effort significantly increased in 2019, thanks to technology changes and intensified telecom industry efforts. Traces can now be completed in an hour, according to USTelecom.

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