Traffic Pumping – What it is and why you need to care NOW

Wed, 05/02/2018

You’ve heard the term.  You’ve been told it’s a major issue in the Toll-Free Industry.  But now the real question a lot of people are asking – what exactly IS traffic pumping?

Whether you refer to it as a subset of robo-calling or the technical term “access stimulation,” traffic pumping is a very real problem that is negatively affecting the entire Toll-Free Industry.

What does Toll-Free traffic pumping look like?

In a nutshell, Toll-Free traffic pumping starts with a robo-caller and a telephone company (usually a smaller competitive local exchange carrier) agreeing to share revenue the carrier gets for originating a Toll-Free call. This is called “originating access.” As Toll-Free is a premium service, originating access to Toll-Free can be priced higher than other telecommunications services, creating an incentive to push more traffic, or “pump” the traffic, to Toll-Free Numbers. The robo-caller usually spoofs the Caller ID on the call to make it harder to trace back to the origin. In addition, most traffic pumping schemes are highly sophisticated and involve several carrier hand-offs, which makes it very difficult to trace the call back to the call originator or even the originating carrier.

The longer the call, and the more calls being made to Toll-Free Numbers, the more money these unethical carriers and robo-callers collect for routing those calls.

The tricky thing about traffic pumping and why it is so difficult to curb is that surprisingly, the tools that traffic pumpers use – Caller ID spoofing and revenue sharing, are both legal in most circumstances.  Almost all traffic pumping schemes involve Caller ID spoofing, which the FCC does not prohibit outright.  It is illegal; however, to use spoofed Caller ID for the purpose of committing fraud or wrongfully obtaining anything of value, which is exactly what happens in Toll-Free traffic pumping.  Revenue sharing is also not illegal, per se, as there are many legitimate telecommunications services that legally share revenue. However, it is also a way for the traffic pumper to get paid.

What can I do to help stop Toll-Free traffic pumping?

Here are few tips for Responsible Organizations (Resp Orgs) and Toll-Free end users to follow in order to help curb the practice of traffic pumping:

  • Limit your Interactive Voice Response Systems. Scammers love to find IVRs (Interactive Voice Response systems) that will let them hang on the line for an hour or longer. Set a time limit for IVRs to three-minutes, or less, unless there is a determined need for IVRs to have a longer limit.
  • Opt out of Pay Phone calls. Yes, payphones do exist. And scammers can make it look like a number is coming from a payphone when traffic pumping. Pay phone charges are some of the highest in the telecommunications industry, making them a lucrative weapon for scammers to use against Toll-Free providers. Talk to your carrier about opting out of receiving calls marked as “pay phone” calls.
  • Recognize Calling Patterns. Traffic pumping can be recognized if you know how to look for it. Resp Orgs, End Users and carriers providing services to Toll-Free Numbers may look for the following patterns to help determine if they are the victim of traffic pumping:
    • Calls may have silence, nonsense audio, or DTMF tones
    • High or very similar average length of conversation coming from one source
    • Noticeable increase in monthly charges
    • Calls during off-hours, including overnight hours
    • Spikes in incoming Toll-Free traffic from a single source
  • Let the FCC and Law Enforcement know. The more information you can give the FCC, the easier it will be for them to pursue the complaints. To file a complaint at the FCC, click here. In addition, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

We encourage the Toll-Free Industry to follow these tips and take action. Together, we can help to reduce the unlawful practice of traffic pumping.