U.K. regulator targets scam calls and texts

Ofcom, the U.K. regulator for communications services, just announced their plans to respond to the problem of scam calls and texts. Here’s a summary and comparison of their approach with policies in the U.S. and Canada.

Evolving challenges of scam calls and texts

Their 37-page policy positioning statement, Tackling scam calls and texts, describes the following challenges:

  1. Unwanted calls are now harder to detect.
  2. There’s been a shift from nuisance to scam calls.
  3. Scam texts have become prevalent.
  4. There are existing initiatives to reduce scam calls and texts but more needs to be done.

Existing initiatives

Ofcom has already issued policies to combat nuisance calls:

  • Ofcom issued rules to require providers to provide CLI facilities (Calling Line Identification, i.e., caller ID).
  • Providers must take all reasonable steps to identify and block non-emergency calls with an an invalid or non-dialable CLI.
  • A Do Not Originate (DNO) list project was begun by Ofcom in 2018. This list is shared with telecom providers, intermediaries, and call blocking/filtering services.
  • Copper retirement has been underway for several years. The plan is to complete this by 2025, when the telephone network will be all VoIP.
British woman looking at her phone

Proposed actions

Ofcom’s proposed policy direction includes the following:

  • Strengthen rules and guidance for providers to block calls with spoofed numbers.
  • Guidance to prevent scammers from accessing valid phone numbers (know-your-customer).
  • Expand the content and use of the DNO list.
  • Start planning and development for a CLI database.
  • Implement STIR/SHAKEN for CLI authentication.
    • The UK telecoms industry has agreed that this would work best with a CLI database and all-VoIP network. Therefore, the proposed plans anticipate SHAKEN go live around 2025, when the CLI database will be available and the network will be all-IP.

Differences and similarities of the U.K. plans with other countries

  • The UK has launched a centrally managed DNO list. This has been a private effort in the U.S.
  • The U.S. has a Reassigned Numbers Database. This hasn’t been mentioned in the U.K., however, their CLI database would provide similar information and more.
  • The U.S. has passed laws and issued regulatory orders with compliance mandates.
    • In Canada, the CRTC has issued decisions and orders on its current authority. There’s also a theme that service providers must provide call authentication to help mitigate illegal robocalls. Providers that don’t do that won’t be competitive and won’t be able to keep their customers. Compared to the U.S. the messaging is more carrot, less stick.
    • In the UK, the Communications Act of 2003 gives Ofcom the authority to issue and enforce rules. No new laws needed. More stick than in Canada, but some carrot too.

Next steps

Ofcom is engaged in consultation on these policies and aim to complete consultation on 20 April 2022. They will publish their decisions in Autumn 2022.

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