What to Do When Your Alarm Company’s Calls Are Flagged as Spam

This can get costly when customers don’t answer and then are charged because a guard was dispatched. There’s an explanation and a simple solution.

A young man looks annoyed as he talks on the phone while looking at his laptop.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Several months ago, on a Sunday afternoon, our home landline and two cell phones rang, one after the other. They rang many more times than normal. Also, our caller ID displayed ‘Spam Likely.’ Having answered one of these calls in the past, I knew that typically someone comes on, claiming to be from any number of organizations, wanting all sorts of personal information. We never answer ‘Spam Likely’ calls. However, curious as to who it was, we activated the ‘last number received’ feature, and an out-of-our-area number was revealed. We Googled it, finding that it was a legit number belonging to a company that monitors fire and burglar arms for security companies. Curious, we immediately dialed the number, discovering that they monitor our medical office alarm.

“Something had tripped our alarm, and they were trying to reach us. Unsuccessful, they contacted the local company that maintains our alarm system that in turn dispatched a security guard to my office. My son and I met him there, found that everything was secure, and he offered several possible explanations for the false alarm — none of them our fault. I asked if he could explain why ‘Spam Likely’ showed up on our phones — not the name of the monitoring company — and if this has been a problem in the past.

“He acknowledged this has been an ongoing issue, upsetting customers who are being charged each time a guard is dispatched. He, his co-workers and the company’s owner have repeatedly told the monitoring company to remedy the situation, without success. Several days later, we received a bill for that Sunday afternoon ‘Spam Likely’ call and have refused to pay it.

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“Mr. Beaver, who is responsible for this charge? Had the company’s name been visible, we would have answered and had the opportunity to decline a guard being dispatched and check out things ourselves, as we have done in the past when they called us — when ‘Spam Likely’ did not appear. Are we obligated to pay? What explains this? Thanks, ‘Bob.’”

Calling James Bond: Shaken and stirred

To see if my reader’s experience was unique, I phoned alarm companies across the country and found that this problem is very common. I heard repeatedly from managers and owners some version of: Instead of the customer picking up on the first couple of rings, our calls go to voicemail, and this is potentially dangerous, aside from upsetting customers when they are billed for a guard being dispatched.

So, how does a legitimate business phone number suddenly show up on caller ID as “Spam Likely”?

An explanation as clear as mud

Technical people at cloud-based telecommunication companies I spoke with all said that the blame and solution is wrapped up in the FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN technology standard for service providers.

The STIR/SHAKEN protocol has a three-level system that carriers use to categorize the information about the caller into levels of trustworthiness. The different levels, ranging from A to C, indicate the amount of trust or proof a provider has in the caller’s right to use that number. The higher the attestation level, the more trustworthy the call and the less likely it is to be blocked or labeled as “spam risk,” or a similar designation indicating a potentially fraudulent call.

Here are a few reasons why a carrier might determine a lower level of trustworthiness.

  • Many outbound calls are made per day from that number.
  • Someone flagged a call from that number as spam.
  • The number’s outbound caller ID is not set correctly in the business’ phone system. 
  • Carriers view the company's information filed with them as incomplete and will probably automatically flag the number as spam.

What can be done about it?

The FCC and major carriers realize there are legitimate business reasons that require high call volumes (such as appointment reminders). A request for them to white-list your number should be filed with an explanation of your reasons for the high call volume.

Upon approval, telecommunication providers will flag your number as “safe” and prevent future blocked calls or unwanted “spam” caller ID labels. As one tech told me, “In an ideal world, this works. Our world is far from ideal.”

A law professor offers a simple solution

Professor Bryan Hull of Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) gave this analysis:

“First of all, what do the terms and conditions in the alarm contract specify? If they say the customer will be called first, and if there is no answer, an officer will be sent out and a charge will be made, then an argument could be made that if the call says “Spam Likely,” the customer could claim that it was unclear who was calling, and the charge is unwarranted.

“The solution is for customers to be given the monitoring service’s phone number(s) and instructed to program and recognize them on their caller ID. Then, if they don’t answer, there will be a charge for an officer visit.”

Hopefully, that logic will be persuasive, and my reader will not be pursued for payment.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."