FCC Proposes Rules to Help Stop Spoofed Robocalls

Maureen Mahoney
Public Policy Fellow

Friday, March 24th, 2017
robocalls

New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made his first major proposal to deal with the problem of robocalls. Today, the FCC voted to release a notice of proposed rulemaking on fraudulently spoofed calls. These are the calls that seem to be local or from a reliable source, but turn out to be from scammers posting a fake number in the Caller ID. The proposed rules, if passed, will make it easier for phone companies to block clearly illegitimate spoofed calls. The FCC also launched an inquiry to collect public comments about a potentially broader safe harbor for blocking illegal calls.

This is a positive development, and we support the proposed rules. But the proposal alone will not solve the broader problem of unwanted robocalls. We’re continuing to put pressure on the FCC to take more aggressive action against unwanted robocalls, which remain the number one consumer complaint to the FCC.

The rulemaking builds on a portion of the work of the Robocall Strike Force (RSF), known as Do Not Originate. The RSF itself is an industry group, led by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, that was created last summer at the request of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to work toward technological solutions to the robocall problem. The Robocall Strike Force released an initial report on its work in October 2016.

Do Not Originate shows promise against unwanted fraudulent robocalls. As detailed in its report, the Robocall Strike Force conducted a Do Not Originate trial last summer and fall. The participating companies blocked calls originating overseas that had spoofed a commonly-used number for inbound calls to the IRS. During the trial, complaints to the IRS about scam calls dropped 90%. One provider found that the number of IRS scam calls that crossed through their networks each day dropped from 8,000 to 1,000.

While we applaud this development, there’s been no mention from the FCC on another key piece of the Robocall Strike Force: former Chairman Wheeler’s request to develop and implement free call-blocking tools for consumers so that they can choose to block a wide variety of unwanted calls. Mr. Wheeler asked that the Robocall Strike Force reconvene in April 2017 to report back on their progress. We urge current Chairman Pai to hold the phone companies to this deadline and to demand that they offer free robocall-blocking tools to their customers.  

Many consumers continue to report to us that they are besieged with robocalls. What can you do to protect yourself in the short term? Check out Consumer Reports’ review of call-blocking tools for home phones, and take a look at the Wireless Association’s list of apps for smartphones. And of course, please join our End Robocalls campaign to help us push for change!

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