For years, phone scams have proliferated in America, recently getting worse in the amount of money they’ve extracted, while efforts to stop them have had little effect. Now, the U.S. government is trying something new. June 30 was the deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for major phone companies to implement an anti-robocall technology with an acronym evoking James Bond’s martini. “Implementation of caller ID authentication technology using the STIR/SHAKEN standards,” the FCC says, “will reduce the effectiveness of illegal spoofing, allow law enforcement to identify bad actors more easily, and help voice service providers identify calls with illegally spoofed caller ID information before those calls reach their subscribers.” Meanwhile, Americans receive millions of robocalls calls each month, and a recent report found that more than 59 million people in the U.S. lost money to phone scams over the past year. Who’s behind all this, and why is stopping it so difficult?

Marguerite Reardon, a senior reporter at CNET, explains that phone scams come both from inside the U.S. and from countries around the world, including Russia and India. Scammers often belong to criminal organizations, she says, while easy-to-use internet technology allows them to commit their crimes from anywhere. Reardon sees STIR/SHAKEN as an important step in U.S. authorities’ efforts to stop phone scammers, but she’s skeptical that it will make a significant impact. The frustrating reality, she suggests, is that the only reliable way to stop scams in a time of pervasive deception is for an informed public to know how to protect itself.

Graham Vyse: When and how did scam calls become such a big problem in the U.S.?

Marguerite Reardon: We’ve had problems with scam calls practically as long as we’ve had phones. With phone-call technology like Voice Over IP, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, it’s just gotten so cheap and easy to reach people, and scammers have picked up on that. It’s been escalating over the past decade.

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