CRTC calls on Canadian telecoms to do more to fight scammers

Canada's telecom regulator moves to adopt a new weapon in the fight against phone scammers, calling on Canadian telecom companies to use a new technology that would make it easier to verify the origins of a call.

Regulator wants phone companies to use new technology to verify caller origins

The CRTC announced plans Monday to reduce the number of unwanted phone calls Canadians receive. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Canada's telecom regulator moved Monday to adopt a new weapon in the fight against phone scammers, calling on Canadian telecom companies to adopt a new technology that would make it easier to verify the origins of a call.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is giving companies until Sept 30, 2020, to adopt STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens) technology.

Once that technology is adopted, it will allow users to view if the origins of calls they receive via a mobile phone or voice-over-IP systems have been verified.

While the new technology won't block calls from scammers or eliminate the problem, CRTC officials say it is one more tool in the fight against unwanted phone calls.

CRTC chairperson Ian Scott said it is a problem that has to be addressed.

"Nuisance calls are a major irritant for many Canadians," he said in a statement. "We are committed to addressing this issue and are working with the industry and our partners to better protect consumers.

"The new STIR/SHAKEN framework will enable Canadians to know, before they answer the phone, whether a call is legitimate or whether it should be treated with suspicion."

Scott underlined the CRTC's message by participating in a cross-border call Monday with Ajit Pai, chair of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission using STIR/SHAKEN technology.

"Spoofing is a challenge that requires broad co-operation and engagement, both domestically and internationally, from many partners including the telecommunications industry," the pair said in a joint statement.

The CRTC's announcement comes as Canadians continue to be plagued by phone calls from scammers, some of them purporting to be government officials or police officers. When the person targeted checks their call display, the scammers have often spoofed the call to make it look like it is coming from the real government agency or police department.

Police say one version of the scam, in which callers pose as officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, has defrauded Canadians of more than $16.7 million since 2014.

Canada's major telecom companies are on track to meet a Dec. 19 deadline to implement technology that could eliminate many call from scammers by blocking calls with misformed ID numbers. The CRTC is also working with telecom providers on ways to trace nuisance calls back to their point of origin.

CRTC officials say 40 per cent of the complaints the CRTC receives about unwanted calls are about spoofing.

Telus is not only working on STIR/SHAKEN technology but it also facilitated Monday's phone call between the heads of the CRTC and the FCC to demonstrate the technology, a spokesperson said.

Jerome Bird, vice-president of voice and services development operations at Telus, said the company is committed to finding a solution to nuisance calls.

"In terms of other ongoing efforts to address consumer concerns with nuisance calls, Telus has also developed a sophisticated user-friendly call filtering service called Call Control and is in the process of making it widely available to Telus customers."

Nathan Gibson, spokesperson for Bell Canada, said the company is working on STIR/SHAKEN technology.

"We're working closely with our technology partners and plan to implement [it] by next September. We have also applied to the CRTC to conduct a 90-day trial of customized call blocking technology Bell has developed to further protect against fraudulent and scam calls."

Rogers Communications is also working on adopting the new technology, said spokesman Bill Killorn.

"We know receiving unwanted calls is frustrating for our customers and we have been working diligently with the CRTC and industry partners to combat them, including this new measure to let our customers know if the caller can be trusted."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.


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