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Consumer groups want tougher rules to block robocalls

Advocates urge the FCC to require meaningful authentication for all calls

Photo (c) Tero Vesalainen - Getty Images
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules aimed at curbing unwanted robocalls, but a coalition of consumer groups argues the rules don't go far enough.

The FCC proposal would allow voice service providers to block some "spoofed" robocalls -- calls that appear to originate from a local number when they could be made from overseas.

But in comments filed with the agency by the National Consumer Law Center, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and Public Citizen argue the proposed rule is already behind the curve.

“The FCC rules do something: they allow telephone companies to block spoofed calls from numbers that do not actually exist. But spoofers have simply moved to make fraudulent calls from real numbers—meaning that the rules do not cut down on the spoofed calls at all,” said National Consumer Law Center Senior Counsel Margot Saunders.

Saunders likens it to closing one door of a double door to keep the mice out, but if the second door is open, the mice will simply use it.

"Moreover, the rules are not even mandatory so telephone companies are free to ignore them,” she said.


The groups call for some type of meaningful authentication for all calls, along with a robust robocall-blocking tool. That, they say, would take care of most of the problem.

Scammers have made extensive use of robocalls in recent years, since the technology allows one operator to make a large number of calls at once. When a recipient answers, a recorded voice is designed to keep them on the line. Since a large percentage of scam calls end in hang ups, it allows a fraudster to focus on the few potential victims who are still listening when the message ends.

The consumer groups say the FCC rule should require telephone companies to provide free, effective caller ID authentication for every call, along with free call-blocking services. Some mobile providers already have that capability.

“Bad actors are continuing to find ways around the rules to prevent fraudulent robocalls and take advantage of consumers, but there is more that can be done to protect consumers,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumers Union.

“The FCC should ensure that consumers can control the calls they receive by requiring that phone companies provide blocking technology free of charge to consumers.”

Staggering number of robocalls

In 2016, the YouMail National Robocall Index (YNRI) estimated that somewhere around 2.3 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. in the month of January alone, a staggering 51,523 calls per minute.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says some types of robocalls are permitted under the law. For example, your doctor's office may use a robocall to remind you of an appointment. Political messages may be delivered with a robocall, as can messages from debt collectors.

However, using a robocall to sell any type of product or service is illegal. When you get one of these calls, you should hang up immediately, the FTC advises.

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