You know how you’ve been getting calls on your home and cell phones telling you that you owe money, that a parcel has gone missing, or that you’re about to be arrested? Those are harmful spam calls, and according to the majority of US Attorneys General, many of them are coming from one company: Avid Telecom.
According to the Associated Press, 51 Attorneys General filed a 141-page complaint against Avid Telecom on Thursday (25 May 2023). Avid Telecom, founded in 2001, provides termination services that enable businesses to purchase toll-free numbers in bulk and automatically route calls to the numbers of their choice.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, Avid Telecom used faked and bogus caller ID numbers to make billions of calls to people on Do Not Call lists. In other words, the numbers you see on your phone are not those of the callers. Worryingly, the suit claims Avid Telecom conducted millions of calls meant to appear to be from law enforcement and government agencies. (“Hello, the CIA is phoning…”)
So many stupid decisions (and texts)
The consequences of these phone calls (and messages) are challenging to quantify. According to one recent analysis, there would be 75 billion robocalls and 225 billion robotexts in 2022. Those who receive them or fall victim to their deceptive nature are usually connected to someone who is not affiliated with the government or law enforcement and is often attempting to collect personal and private information: names, addresses, social security numbers, and other personally identifying information that can be used to steal identities.
Occasionally the call connects to bogus support workers who direct the caller to download malware onto their computer so that they may monitor their keystrokes and steal their information.
Naturally, Avid Telecom opposes the action and claims that the Attorneys General did not contact them before filing it. “The company has never been found by any court or regulatory authority to have transmitted unlawful traffic,” said Neil Ende, a lawyer for Avid Telecom. “It is prepared to meet with the solicitors general, as it has on many occasions in the past, to further demonstrate its good faith and lawful conduct.”
Avid Telecom claims to have “complete Stir/Shaken capacity and required robocall mitigation in place” on its website, despite the services it offers appearing to be tailor-made for robocall operations.
Stir/Shaken is the outcome of a collaboration between the Federal Communications Commission and major telecommunications firms, and it provides a framework for identifying and authenticating callers. The difficulty is that astute spammers are continually devising workarounds, which is partly why our robocall problem appears to be worsening rather than improving.
Things to do
The litigation, which arose as part of a countrywide anti-robocall taskforce, is unlikely to put an end to our robocall problem. Still, if the states win and collect millions (if not millions) in fines from Avid Telecom, it may deter firms from engaging in these robocall activities.
In the meantime, take these basic guidelines to prevent becoming entangled in the robocall and robotext web:
Do not respond to calls from unknown numbers.
Text messages are not more formal than phone calls. Do not call the number provided in the message.
Do not give out personal information, and if someone asks for your social security number, bank account number, or credit card number, hang up.
Most government entities will not send you an SMS unless you have opted in.
No one who contacts you via email, phone, or text message genuinely wants to assist you in repairing your computer.
Caller ID can be deceived. Do not presume that a local or official has called you.
Contact the authorities immediately to double-check any information.
Unless you are opt-in for alerts, your bank will not text you.
Do not return texts or phone calls. Instead, log onto your accounts to look for any unusual activity.