Posted on March 3, 2022 in Technology

Australian Spam

Spam calls are becoming a flood in Australia. People are seeing an enormous amount of illegitimate calls coming in, and blocking barely helps. What happened?

American Spam – And The CAN SPAM Act

The CAN-SPAM says: calls, messages, emails, regular mail, etc. sent to you purely for advertising need to be clearly labeled as ads; there must be a clear way to opt out of the service promptly (email address, an address that physical mail can travel to, a number, etc.); a physical address must be listed on the communication; and once you’ve opted out, you can’t be contacted again without penalty. This act was introduced to combat the surge of telemarketing and spam calls after international calling got cheaper (around 2003), and it’s not playing around. The FTC can fine the company responsible for the ads up to 16,000$ per email sent, and the FCC can fine ~41,000$ per call for contacting people after said people have opted out.

Once the target opts out, the company who got opted out of can’t simply pass the email or number along to a subcontractor and say “they didn’t opt out of these messages!”, either, because the company is not allowed to transfer the email address after opt-out, even as part of a list. “Forgetting” to remove the unsubscribed user is asking for a fine (in a perfect world).

The end result is that most people in the USA don’t get telemarketing calls or digital flyers out of the blue, unless they signed up for a rewards account somewhere, recently bought something big, or ended up on a list for illegitimate or criminal spam. Unfortunately, the last category causes the majority of issues.

Illegitimate and Criminal Spam

Scam callers don’t honor the DNC list – why should they? While they can be sued, they have to be found and filed against first. Not an easy task, even for government agencies, to undertake.

Even when found, prosecution is tough. Some countries don’t have the resources to punish reported scam callers, others don’t allow overseas organizations to intervene at all. The scam industry is surprisingly easy to get into, so even when the FTC can do something about it, actually handling the problem at the source is like playing whack-a-mole with hundreds of thousands of members. At some point, it’s easier to prepare potential targets on how to spot and avoid these scams than it is to try and prune the scams at the source.

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting scammed by a scam-caller is to just stop picking up the phone for unknown numbers… but an unfortunate side effect is that people have stopped answering the phone, full stop. Telephone services actually tell users not to answer the phone for strange numbers almost universally!

That’s a stopgap solution, and it’s not ideal. A hiker didn’t answer phone calls from the rescue crew looking for him because he didn’t recognize the number. Doctor’s offices and pharmacies end up playing phone tag with patients because they don’t recognize the number, slowing down care. Calls from strange numbers that turn out to be legitimate contacts with new phones go ignored unless they leave a voicemail. It’s a very real issue, one that’s taking its toll on any populace with good phone saturation. The FCC and FTC have their hands full!

Australian Spam

If it’s this bad in the US, it’s worse in Australia, which has both less manpower and less funding to prevent spam callers from continuing to call.

One of their primary issues is spoofing – a process by which a caller can make their number look like another number, or make their caller ID say something the victim is more likely to answer with VOIP technology (more or less, calling over the internet). In Australia, spoofing is both slightly more legal and slightly less prosecutable than it is in America. In America, it is partially legal to spoof a number so long as both the caller and the number they’re spoofing have a legitimate reason to be calling. For example, an employee of a company using spoofing to make their number appear as the company’s number is okay, as long as the company had permission to call the user. In Australia, the same is theoretically true – but the phrasing allows a much wider interpretation of legit spoofing.

 Additionally, tracking down exactly what happens when a spoofer gets caught using it maliciously in Australia is difficult, for some reason. The site has barely anything. Sites describing the American response to spoofing show that spoofers can be fined up to 10,000$ for each violation, but the closest I could find on the Australian response is ‘legal and financial penalties’, which could mean a huge range of things. When callers can spoof, they will – it allows them to keep calling even when their spoofed number gets blocked, and local numbers are more likely to get answered.

Spam Now: Disregarding the DNC list, Texting, Smishing, Emails…

Spam has multiplied. Robots are making spam now using links and robodialers with robo-messages on the other side. You may have never given your number out to companies you didn’t trust only to end up with spam messages anyway when the few you did give it to gets its customer’s details breached. The type of spam itself has changed – I get way more spam texts in a day than I do spam emails anymore, likely because the algorithm pre-determining spam from real mail in most major email companies like Google etc. have improved so much that it’s not worth it anymore. Spam calls and texts are different because they tap directly to the person with no algorithm or anything in the way, but hopefully they, too, run out of money as consumers become more aware and pass that awareness onto others. While some say a sucker is born every minute, perhaps we can still protect them – and still manage to answer legit calls and texts after.