If Speech Will Help, Bring It On!

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When I moved into my apartment about four years ago, I decided I needed to maintain a landline phone “just in case.” I was expecting to have guests drop by all the time, and the doorbell/buzzer system in my building works through the phone lines. Sure, it costs a few dollars extra every month, but having a landline has been worth it. It’s a reliable backup to my cell phone, if nothing else.

To protect myself from the inevitable onslaught of marketing phone calls that comes with a home phone, I placed that same phone number on the national Do Not Call list. Everything worked fine: I still got bothered for a few weeks right before the elections every November, but otherwise, that too was worth it.

That has all changed in the past few months. Somehow, my number wound up on some list somewhere. Now I get robocalls all the time—sometimes three or four of them a day, at all hours. I have neither a mortgage nor student loans, but luckily, I can consolidate all of my payments for one low fee. I can raise my credit score or lower my credit card interest rates for one low fee. I can enter to win a Caribbean cruise and get rid of my unwanted timeshare, for a fee. And I can learn how to make thousands of dollars a month without ever getting off the couch, for another low, one-time fee, of course. I reached the breaking point at the request for me to join a class-action lawsuit for the ovarian cancer that I might have contracted as a result of using baby powder in my most intimate of areas. What I put there is no one’s business, and my nonexistent ovaries are just fine, thank you very much!

While the subject matter of these robocalls varies widely, there are a few commonalities: They all deliver prerecorded messages, they all originate from nonexistent or “spoofed” phone numbers, they’re all just plain annoying, and they’re all illegal.

As a consumer, the cost of these calls is minimal, as long as I don’t buy whatever they’re selling or give out any personal information. For businesses that receive them, though, these calls can have very serious consequences.

Luckily, this month’s feature article “Using Speech to Combat Robocalls, ANI Spoofing, and Fraud,” by Oren Smilansky, offers a lot of great advice to help businesses protect themselves from the illegal acts that tie up phone lines, result in much higher phone bills, and lead to wide-scale customer data breaches. Speech technologies can tighten phone-based security, preventing callers from illegally accessing accounts by exploiting weaknesses in interactive voice response systems (IVR) or tugging at the heart strings of well-intentioned agents who unwittingly give up more information than they’re supposed to. Voice biometrics, voice pattern matching, liveness detection, and IVRs front-ended with multifactor authentication solutions are all viable tools to protect companies from fraud and limit the amount of damage that would-be thieves can do.

The companies bold enough to deploy such technologies have already seen tremendous results. And perhaps more telling, the many companies that haven’t deployed them yet have paid a heavy price. If yours is one of them, it’s time to get off the fence and finally make the investment. Like my landline phone, it’s well worth the added expense, if you’re willing to put up with a few minor inconveniences.

As for my onslaught of robocalls, I guess I’ll have to wait for the powerful speech technologies mentioned to move out of the commercial space so I can use them to protect my home and cell phone. Then we can work on putting a stop to all of the spam—most of which also violates about a dozen U.S. laws—that comes into my personal email inbox every day.

Leonard Klie is the editor of Speech Technology. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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