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Canada’s telecom regulator is introducing a new measure to combat the rise of telephone scams involving phone numbers that are made to look like those of government agencies and other legitimate callers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced Monday that it’s asking telecom service providers to introduce new technology by Sept. 30, 2020, that aims to tackle what is known as caller ID spoofing.

The technology, known by its acronym STIR/SHAKEN, will allow carriers to verify the caller ID information for Internet Protocol-based voice calls and inform the customer receiving the call whether the caller’s identity can be trusted.

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The announcement comes amid a deluge of complaints about fraudulent telephone calls, often from scammers claiming to be from agencies such as Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency. The number that appears on call display is frequently manipulated to make it look legitimate – a process referred to as spoofing. The CRTC said 40 per cent of the complaints it receives about unwanted calls involve spoofed numbers.

Victims who answer scam calls are told they owe money and asked to provide personal information such as their social insurance numbers. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said scammers pretending to be calling from the CRA bilked more than a thousand people out of at least $6.4-million last year.

Although the new technology should reduce the frequency and impact of caller ID spoofing, senior officials at the CRTC said it won’t completely eliminate the problem. The technology only works for IP-based calls, so those that get routed through legacy systems will not be affected. The senior officials, who were speaking on background, said the STIR/SHAKEN framework will become more effective as the telecom industry continues its migration to IP-based networks.

CRTC chairman Ian Scott called nuisance calls a “major irritant" for Canadians.

“We are committed to addressing this issue and are working with the industry and our partners to better protect consumers," Mr. Scott said in a statement. "The new STIR/SHAKEN framework will enable Canadians to know, before they answer the phone, whether a call is legitimate or whether it should be treated with suspicion.”

The initiative is one of several under way to combat fraudulent phone calls. The CRTC is also working with the industry to develop a trace-back program that will identify where a nuisance call is coming from.

The regulator is also requiring telecom providers to implement universal call-blocking software to ban calls from so-called “malformed numbers” by Dec. 19. That includes calls from numbers that can’t be dialled, such as 00-000-0000 or 111-111-1111 or those that exceed 15 digits.

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Bell, a division of BCE Inc., and Rogers Communications Inc. said they’re working to implement a number of measures to combat fraudulent calls, including the new STIR/SHAKEN framework.

“We know receiving unwanted calls is frustrating for our customers and we have been working diligently with the CRTC and industry partners to combat them, including this new measure to let our customers know if the caller can be trusted," Rogers spokesman Bill Killorn said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Bell said the company has also applied to the CRTC to conduct a 90-day trial of customized call-blocking technology.

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