FCC proposes new rules allowing phone companies to block spoofed robocalls

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FCC Proposal is a positive step but phone companies need to do more to stop unwanted calls 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Federal Communications Commission proposal announced today to allow phone companies to block spoofed robocalls deserves support, but more is needed to protect consumers from unwanted calls, according to Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.

“Americans have run out of patience with robocalls that ring at all hours of the day,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst with Consumers Union.  “This proposal is a positive step that will help provide relief from the scourge of unwanted calls.  But consumers have waited long enough for action.  It’s time for the phone companies to start offering free call-blocking solutions to all of their customers.”

In 2015, Consumers Union launched its End Robocalls campaign calling on the phone companies to step up their efforts to block robocalls.  Nearly 750,000 people have joined Consumers Union’s campaign urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to offer their customers free robocall-blocking tools.

Last October, an industry-led Robocall Strike Force unveiled an initial plan for working together on new technologies to block unwanted calls.  The Robocall Strike Force was established at the request of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who asked the companies to report on their progress by the end of April.  Consumers Union urged current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to hold the phone companies to this deadline and to call on them to offer free robocall-blocking protection to their customers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 5.3 million complaints from consumers fed up with unwanted calls in FY 2016.  Almost half of these calls occurred after the consumer requested that the caller stop contacting them.  Robocalls have become so rampant that complaints about violations of the Do Not Call registry more than tripled between 2010 and 2016.  Telephone scammers target the elderly and other vulnerable consumers, resulting in an estimated $350 million in financial losses annually.

Fraudulent robocalls are often made by crooks who transmit spoofed numbers to Caller ID to trick consumers into answering their phone.  Under the FCC’s “Do Not Originate” proposal, phone companies would be allowed to block robocalls made using spoofed phone numbers if the real owner of the phone number requested them to do so.  Phone companies would also be allowed to block spoofed robocalls made from incomplete or unassigned phone numbers.  However, the proposal does not require phone companies to adopt the “Do Not Originate” protocol and not all robocalls are made using spoofed numbers.

A Consumer Reports review of carrier-provided call-blocking services last October found most to be lacking.  The investigation compared 21 different call-blocking services offered by phone companies based on six different criteria, including cost and the variety of features they provide.  While consumers using internet-based phone services have the best carrier-provided, call-blocking options, most phone companies don’t offer strong protection to their traditional landline and wireless customers.

Contact:  Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747, ext 7606 (office)