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TRAI to frame strict rules on pesky calls

Pesky calls and scams are the bane to the boon of digital era. Phone call scams have become prevalent posing significant threat to not only financial security but also to the identity and privacy.

Pesky calls and scams are the bane to the boon of digital era. Phone call scams have become prevalent posing significant threat to not only financial security but also to the identity and privacy. The proliferation of telecom communication has capitalised on the ease of accessibility and benefit of anonymity perpetuated on the global scale. A survey revealed that at least 60 per cent of Indians receive three or more spam calls from companies selling real estate and financial services.

To keep a check and frame strict guidelines on Unsolicited Commercial Regulation (UCC), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) convened a meeting of the Joint Committee of Regulators (JoCR) at New Delhi headquarters on May 21, 2024. The meeting was attended by the representatives of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Ministry of Consumer Affairs (MoCA) and TRAI as members of JCoR and representatives from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as special invitees. The JCoR is a collaborative initiative by TRAI to study regulatory implications in the digital world and to collaboratively work on regulations.

What are Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC)?
UCC means any commercial communication which a subscriber opts not to receive, but does not include -any transactional message or any message transmitted on the directions of the Central Government or State Government or agencies authorized by it. Suspected or unsolicited communications received through call, SMS or WhatsApp which are intended for cyber-crime, financial frauds, impersonation, fake customer services / lottery offer / loan offer / job offer / installation of mobile tower / disconnection of services or KYC update / loan etc. or any other misuse. The instances for which users receive such communication include:

  • KYC related to Bank/Electricity/ Gas/ Insurance policy etc.
  • Impersonation as Government official / relative.
  • Fake Customer Care Helpline.
  • Online job / lottery /gifts/loan offers.
  • Sextortion.
  • Multiple automated / robo communication.
  • Malicious link / website.

While the increased accessibility of telecom services is appreciated, it has further allowed unsolicited commercial communications to rise.

What are these scams?
The scammers contact individuals through call, SMS, WhatsApp message or email and ask for sensitive information like PAN Aadhaar, bank account card details, OTP, etc. They often create a false sense of urgency and threaten service disruption if not complied. They also ask people to download and install third party app which grants them access to the phone/computer and personal data of victims.

Issues discussed at the meeting
The meeting was convened to discuss about the various collaborative measures that can be taken to deal with the UCC and frauds trough telecom resources with the key issues are as follows:

  • Unsolicited calls from unauthorized 10-digit mobile numbers as also from landline numbers.
  • Use of 140 series by Principal Entities (entities making commercial communication using telecom resources) for making promotional calls.
  • Use of 160 series by the Principal Entities for making service and transactional calls for easy identification by the consumers.
  • Role of Principal Entities, particularly entities in BFSI (Banking, Finance Services & Insurance) sector in prevention of UCC calls and messages.
  • Acquisition of digital consents by the Principal Entities through Digital Consent Acquisition (DCA) system established by the Telecom
  • Service Providers through a simple and transparent process with due verification from the customer using OTP. DCA also permits revocation of the consents by the customers.
  • Whitelisting of Urls/Apks/OTT Links/Call back numbers in content templates.
  • Control of frauds using telecom resources and further strengthening the KYC process.
  • Sharing of information through platforms.

Earlier efforts on collaborative initiatives – Centre constitutes Committee to draft Guidelines to address the issue of pesky/promotional calls
The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) had constituted a Committee of members from cellular industry, regulatory body (DoT), Department of Financial Services (DFS) and Urban Affairs Reserve Bank of India, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), Telecom Regulatory authority of India, Cellular Operations Association of India (COAI), telemarketing companies and VCOs to draft the Guidelines.

The meeting was conducted under the Chairmanship of Shri Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary, DoCA, the Department on February 14, 2024 to discuss the issues related to pesky/promotional/unsolicited commercial calls.

Are the UCC regulated by way of a legislation?
TRAI had enacted the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010 (hereinafter referred to as the “Regulations”) to address the impending issue of unsolicited/spam or pesky calls. The Regulation was further amended 16 times to fine tune the process for subscribers to record their preferences and for the Telecom Service Providers to take action on any complaints.

What do these Regulations provide for?

  • The telecom companies are prohibited from sending any unsolicited commercial communications to their users. They have to ensure that any promotional messages only through a channel verifier by a proper KYC (Know Your Customer) process.
  • The registered telemarketers (marketers who are registered with the access provider(s) and engaged in the activity of transmission or delivery of commercial communication) have to abide to the Regulations
  • TRAI has further initiated the Do Not Disturb (DND), where users can request inclusion in a registry to avoid such messages. Where a DND subscriber received a purely promotional message in guise of a transactional message, the customer can lodge a complaint with their telecom provider.
  • However, despite such efforts people still receive spam or promotional calls daily from unregistered telemarketers.

The Telecommunications Act, 2023
The Telecommunications Act, 2023 also provide for protection of users of telecom services and prohibit sending of “specified messages” offering advertising or promoting goods, services, interests in property, business opportunity, employment opportunity or investment opportunity irrespective of the fact that the opportunity, good or services are real or it is lawful to acquire such goods, services, property interest or opportunity.

How does the telecom industry currently stop UCC?
The telecom operators have already deployed a block-chain based solution or distributed ledger technology (DLT). DLT platforms are digital systems for keeping and managing the record of sender IDs and templates. In India, the telecom service providers that use the platform include reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Bharat Sanchar Nigam. To make use of this system, the businesses have to register in DLT by submitting details and get access to exclusive headers and templates which are the keywords that pop on screen when a user receives a message.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) on May 26, 2024 directed the telecom providers to block the incoming international spoofed calls displaying Indian numbers. The direction came after it was reported that that fraudsters are making international spoofed calls displaying Indian mobile numbers to Indian citizens and committing cyber-crime and financial frauds. These calls appear to be originating within India but being made by the cyber-criminals from abroad by manipulating the calling line identity (CLI).

Other initiatives taken by DoT
Sanchar Saathi portal is a citizen centric initiative of Department of Telecommunications to empower mobile subscribers, strengthen their security and increase awareness about citizen centric initiatives of the Government. Sanchar Saathi facilitates citizens for reporting suspected fraud communication. Chakshu, one of the various modules of the DoT, facilitates citizens to report the suspected or unsolicited communications received through call, SMS or WhatsApp which are intended for cyber-crime, financial frauds, impersonation, fake customer services / lottery offer / loan offer / job offer / installation of mobile tower / disconnection of services or KYC update / loan etc. or any other misuse. Such proactive reporting of suspected fraud communication helps Department of Telecommunications in prevention of misuse of telecom resources for cyber-crime, financial frauds etc.

How to beware?

  • Ensure not to click on suspicious links or attachments and never respond to unsolicited emails, messages or calls asking for personal information;
  • Refrain from downloading apps which can provide remote access to phone;
  • Never share the SIM card number;
  • Create unique passwords and PINS for apps and online accounts
  • Keeping regular check on bank card statements and report any irregularities immediately
  • Keep the device updated

India – Telecoms, Mobile

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