Robocall Strike Force issues progress report on call-blocking efforts

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Most consumers still don’t have access to effective call-blocking protection 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The phone industry-led Robocall Strike Force filed a report today with the Federal Communications Commission on its efforts to develop new technologies to block robocalls, which top the list of consumer complaints to the FCC.  The report shows continued progress towards better solutions, but most consumers still lack effective call-blocking options, according to Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.

“Robocalls from scam artists and shady telemarketers are a major nuisance and keep getting worse each year,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union.  “The Robocall Strike Force is making progress but most consumers still don’t have access to effective call blocking protection.  The phone companies should keep working to improve call blocking tools and make sure that all of their customers, including those who rely on traditional landlines, get the protection they deserve.  Call-blocking should be a standard feature offered to all phone customers and not a safeguard that consumers have to pay extra to get.”

In 2015, Consumers Union launched its End Robocalls campaign and called 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.  A poll released by Consumer Reports last September found that customers of the top phone companies are deeply frustrated with robocalls and that a large number of respondents would switch their phone service to carriers that offered effective solutions to block unwanted calls.

The Robocall Strike Force was established last August at the request of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.  The Strike Force outlined its initial plans in October and pledged to provide a status report six months later.  In today’s report, the Robocall Strike Force notes that it continues to work on technologies to authenticate the origin of calls, support the development of call-blocking apps, engage in consumer education efforts, and to better identify and stop spoofed calls.  However, no major breakthroughs are highlighted in the report.

Consumers Union urged current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to hold the Robocall Strike Force and individual phone companies accountable for delivering effective solutions to consumers.  Some phone companies have made progress since last fall.  AT&T has begun offering certain smartphone customers a service, Call Protect, at no extra charge.  It automatically identifies and blocks scam calls, and notifies the customer of suspected spam.  T-Mobile has begun offering a free scam call-blocking service.  Verizon had made it easier for its FiOS customers to sign up for Nomorobo.

In addition, the FCC proposed last March to allow phone companies to block robocalls made using a spoofed phone number if the real owner of the phone number requested them to do so.  Under the FCC’s “Do Not Originate” proposal, 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 phone numbers.

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.