Call Tracebacks – How They’re Helping Expose (and Eliminate!) Pesky Fraudsters

Even though they potentially face staggering $116 million dollar fines and grating statutory repercussions, robocallers and other bad actors continue to exploit digital technology to defraud innocent consumers. Whether it’s AI-powered tools generating realistic sounding “human” conversations, phone calls and texts being combined to launch multi-channel attacks or otherwise, the latest crop of scams are demonstrative of an unfortunate reality that the nature and complexity of telecom fraud is evolving.

Luckily, the industry continues to work diligently and steadfastly to keep pace with, if not outrun, fraudsters. While around 10 years ago, innovation included having hackers at Def Con find and identify robocallers, today, perhaps the most effective, efficient and expedient way of discovering the true identity of a robocaller is to perform a traceback.

For those not familiar, the traceback process is more or less as follows: The investigatory party starts by using the robocall's metadata to identify the terminating provider, then asking who they got the call from. The process repeats, identifying each upstream provider until a wall is hit wherein a provider either 1) acknowledges having originated the call or 2) the originating provider is unresponsive. In over 70% of cases where the origin is identified, the offending caller is kicked off the network. When the investigation reaches this stage, authorities proceed with the path most effectual: investigate the originating voice provider, investigate the robocalling customer or often, all the above, to establish who the guilty party most likely is.

As can be imagined, a traceback for a robocall is anything but basic.  Out of necessity, it is a highly coordinated, cross-functional, joint effort by a vast group of industry players and more specifically, those with access to trusted, reliably sourced and authoritative phone number and call data.

So, what exactly makes data “trusted, reliably sourced and authoritative?”

The short answer? A LOT.

The long answer? When qualifying the data used to establish the true originator of a call, one must take into consideration different variables… Who is providing the data? Where was it sourced?

One data source that is not only able to answer these questions but also satisfy the qualities needed to be considered “trusted, reliably sourced and authoritative” is the dataset housed in the RealNumber® DNO repository. So, what makes the dataset both an authentic as well as defensible resource? Consider the following:

  • With combined data direct from the trusted administrator of the North American Numbering Plan (NANP) and the Toll-Free Number Registry (TFNRegistry™), RealNumber DNO – now for voice AND text – brings you the largest and most accurate DNO dataset available today.
  • A formidable percentage of its dataset comes direct from Responsible Organizations (Resp Orgs) and Service Provider Identification Number (SPID) owners who are pre-qualified, registered with the database and enter number intelligence via the system’s secure interface.
  • It includes the Industry Traceback Group’s list of numbers that have been thoroughly vetted and identified as numbers spoofed to facilitate illegal, fraudulent or otherwise malicious traffic.

The third bullet is especially significant for a myriad of reasons. Established in 2015 by USTelecom | The Broadband Association, the Industry Traceback Group (ITG) plays a central and ever-evolving role in the mission to eliminate illegal robocalls. Their influence and impact is so pervasive in fact that in July 2020, the ITG was designated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fulfill the role of the official Congressionally-mandated traceback consortium.

As RealNumber DNO’s database for voice has matured and developed, so too has its level of collaboration with the ITG. Case in point – while at first, only about 2% of numbers queried against RealNumber DNO’s dataset were matched, as recent as February 2023, over 9% of the numbers that ITG queried against RealNumber DNO were matched and determined to be numbers that should never originate a phone call.

While the mission to combat fraud is far from over, with resources like RealNumber DNO  and a robocall consortium like the ITG, the campaign to bring the individuals and entities responsible for illegal robocalls to justice continues to flourish and thrive.

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