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What STIR/SHAKEN Means for You and Your Answering Service
February 02, 2021

We’ve been hearing a lot about STIR/SHAKEN in the news lately. Most of us are probably thinking, “Yay! It’s about time!”

But what IS STIR/SHAKEN?

STIR/SHAKEN is the name for guidelines meant to stop robocalls. In fact, those of you with cell phones or landlines that provide ID information about calls may already be receiving messages like “SPAM?”, “Suspected Robo Call”, or similar warnings. These measures were supposed to begin on June 30, 2021, but many carriers have the technology already and are using it now.

Your cell phone might indicate a call that is “Not in Your Contacts,” followed by the word “Verified.” Calls like these are almost always legitimate. Evidently, at least one carrier is actually dropping calls they highly suspect are robocalls, so their customers never even see the attempt or hear a ring.

Legislation surrounding STIR/SHAKEN came about in an effort to stop telemarketers from “spoofing” telephone numbers. By using your area code and phone prefix, these annoying businesses have been able to use legitimate telephone numbers to fool people into answering their calls.  STIR/SHAKEN legislation is intended to force all parties to display their “real” phone number so that they can be blocked or reported.

Why does STIR/SHAKEN matter to your telephone answering service?

Legitimate reasons do exist for spoofing a number. We actually use such technology on our customers’ behalf.

For example, when you call a doctor’s office and reach the answering service, we take a message for your physician, who may give us an answer and ask us to call you back. When we make that outbound call using the doctor’s office number as an identifier, we have in essence spoofed the doctor’s number so you will know the call is legitimate. STIR/SHAKEN guidelines are not clear if we will have permission to continue this practice, or if we will be forced to stop. However, it looks promising for our industry to be able to continue serving customers in this way. Clearly, we are not being mischievous. Limiting our ability to spoof a number would be one of the unintended consequences of the STIR/SHAKEN effort.

As for the acronyms STIR/SHAKEN, STIR was determined a long time ago. It stands for “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited,” and it actually set standards for the system used to route calls using a VoIP system (Voice over Internet Protocol).

I suspect the powers-that-be had a field day trying to figure out words that produced the word SHAKEN, or Signature-based Handling of Asserted information Using ToKENS. SHAKEN is really a series of guidelines for publicly switched networks that explain how to deal with calls that have incorrect or missing STIR. All of this, of course, is a nod to superspy James Bond, who prefers his martinis “shaken not stirred.” Most bartenders and martini aficionados know that shaking “bruises the gin.” Here’s hoping these standards shake up robocallers, without bruising our relationship with our customers.