“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.
“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.
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."
Amazon To Offer Students $25 Flights For The Holidays — But You Must Act Fast
Amazon Prime Student members will have a chance to score one of 3,000 tickets for a limited time, starting December 5.
By Jamie Feldman Published
Walt Disney's Dividend Is Back. Will DIS Stock Follow?
Disney reinstated its dividend after a three-year suspension as shares remain depressed.
By Dan Burrows Published
Year-End Tax Planning for a Financially Healthier Retirement
Getting your tax ducks in a row for the end of the year can decrease your tax liability and make the most of your income, now and in retirement.
By Ryan Marston, Investment Adviser Representative Published
Where to Start Financially After a Life-Changing Diagnosis
Dealing with an illness, yours or your child’s or that of another loved one, is hard enough without adding financial duress. Here are some considerations and suggestions for covering expenses.
By Stephen B. Dunbar III, JD, CLU Published
Six Ways to Prepare for Widowhood and Protect the Surviving Spouse
No one wants to have to plan for losing their spouse, but having plans in place and knowing what to do when the time comes can alleviate at least some of the stress.
By Tyler Hill, Investment Adviser Representative Published
Creating a Blended Family? Three Key Steps to Consider
Blended families can make your finances and estate extra complicated, but you can head off some of those issues with careful planning.
By Adam Frank Published
Do You Need Disability Insurance?
If you work for a living, the answer is yes, so don’t overlook protecting your biggest asset. Open enrollment season is the perfect time to assess your options.
By Frank J. Legan Published
Retirement Planning in a Time of Inflation and High Interest Rates
Today’s challenges make retirement planning even more complicated than usual, but it’s not all doom and gloom.
By Ken Moraif, MBA, CFP®, CRPC® Published
Not Confident About Retirement Despite Financial Success?
You’re not alone. Uncertainty related to interest rates, government debt, long-term care and market volatility is making everyone uneasy. What can you do about it?
By Barry H. Spencer, Registered Investment Adviser Published
Risk vs Reward: Understanding This Intricate Investing Dance
The stock market can be unpredictable and complex, so having a good grasp on how to mitigate risk is essential.
By Kerim Derhalli Published