LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — They keep coming and coming.
Telemarketers and scammers getting you to pick up your phone with a number that looks like it’s coming from a neighbor.
The battle to beat these calls is now way beyond the boiler-room days of the past. It has become a high-tech fight against nimble robodialers.
Regulators are handcuffed, but a Little Rock company said they have a solution.
“People don't realize that the scam calling problem has literally exploded,” said Charles Morgan, CEO of FirstOrion. “Almost 75 percent of what we call spam calls are really just trying to fraud you, to get you to send money or do something that's going to cost you money.”
Morgan looks like your typical target of a phone scammer. He’s “retired” after developing Acxiom Corporation into a billion-dollar company. Now he bounds around his downtown Little Rock office as his staff markets a system that catches the spoofers that try to pretend they are calling from just around the corner.
“If you look at all the calls you get on a cell phone on the average it's about 15-to-16 percent out of all the calls you get are scam calls,” he said, explaining there is no easy way to stop that kind of volume. He said the overseas scammers use relatively inexpensive technology to sweep through 400-million phone numbers every six minutes. They recalibrate on the fly and figure out where in the U.S. to target to best generate people picking up the call. Morgan said his company works on the network side. They see all the numbers entering the T-Mobile network, and thanks to a growing database, flag the numbers that are fakes or spoofs.
“We have built an enormous analytical process,” Morgan said, though right now it only works on T-Mobile. That provider offers the service for free and he and his team are in talks with major carriers Verizon and Sprint in the U.S. and Vodafone in Europe.
As for the Big Brother implications that an outside company is looking at all the numbers being dialed on a network, Morgan said “don’t worry.” They only see what comes in, not where the calls are going.
“The only way we can stay ahead of them is to do it the network, and let the system learn,” he said. “It knows how to detect scams because there are a lot of different ways we can detect it.”
So far, the technology appears to be turning the tide, according to Morgan.
“We get 91 percent of all scam calls. We stop them. Then our closest competition is 15 percent,” he said. That competition comes mainly from apps, and the “best ones” right now rely on blocked lists and blacklists. Morgan said they won't work.
“The scammers have gotten so sophisticated, you can't block neighborhood calls,” he said while admitting he does have a product to sell.
To customers on carriers besides T-Mobile, he said try to ignore the calls. Real people will leave a voice mail. If you do pick up, hang up quickly. It should be harmless as long as you don’t engage in any kind of conversation with the robot or computer on the other end of the line. In the meantime, Morgan is working to come to your rescue.
“Even if it's not with us if somebody else comes up with a solution, we're going to get those bad guys,” he said. “We're going to get them on the run. We think ours is the best and we're confident of that but this problem has got to be solved.”