October 13, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

“Several months ago on a Sunday afternoon, our home landline and cell phones rang, one after the other, many more times than normal. Also, our caller ID displayed Spam Likely.

From prior experience, the caller claims to be from any number of organizations, wanting all sorts of personal information. We never answer Spam Likely calls.

“Curious as to who it was, we activated the ‘last call received’ feature and a legit number was revealed. We immediately dialed it, finding that it belongs to a company that monitors fire and burglar arms for security companies.

“Something had tripped our alarm, and they were trying to reach us. Unsuccessful, they contacted the local company that maintains our alarm system who in turn dispatched a security guard to my office.

“I met him there, found that everything was secure, and several possible explanations for the false alarm were offered – 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 on-going 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 stemming from that Sunday afternoon Spam Likely call and guard response 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 and 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 it is very common.

“Instead of picking up on the first couple of rings, our calls go to voicemail, and this is potentially dangerous, aside from upsetting our customers, when they are billed for a guard being dispatched,” I heard repeatedly from managers and owners.

So, how does a legitimate business phone number suddenly show up 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 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) STIR/SHAKEN technology standard for service providers.

As explained to me, the STIR/SHAKEN protocol has a three-level system 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 possibly fraudulent call.

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

– You make a high volume of outbound calls per day per number.

– Someone flagged a call from your number in that carrier’s app as spam.

– The number’s outbound caller ID is not set correctly in your business phone system which carriers view as incomplete and likely flag it 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 safe list your number and prevent future blocked calls or unwanted caller ID showing up as spam. As one tech told me, “In a perfect world, this works. Our world is far from perfect.”

A Law Professor Offers a Simple Solution

Loyola University School of Law (Los Angeles) professor Bryan Hull 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 “Likely Spam” 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 instructions 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.