FCC closes telemarketing loophole used by scammers

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Spoofing texts and placing international robocalls are now illegal

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted new regulations that ban caller ID spoofing of text messages and phone calls originating outside the U.S.

The measures are intended to close loopholes that allow scammers to target U.S. consumers without the government being able to take action to stop them. Legislation passed in 2009 was intended to protect consumers, but it neglected to cite text messages or international calls.

Under the new rules, regulators will be able to act in cases where robocallers hide their identity when sending texts or when calling from outside the U.S. Currently, nearly all international scammers spoof a U.S. number, usually one in the victim’s area code.

“Whether it’s neighborhood spoofing, which makes it look like an incoming call is from a local number, or spoofing the number of a company or government agency that consumers know and trust, scammers continue to hide behind spoofed numbers to deceive and defraud American consumers out of money and personal information,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. 

Removing a powerful tool

Spoofing has been a powerful tool criminals have employed to defraud consumers. Working in  overseas call centers, scammers often pretend to be calling from trusted organizations and use pressure tactics to deceive consumers on the other end of the line. 

There have been plenty of cases where scammers calling from halfway around the world spoof consumers’ caller ID into displaying a local number, or a number of a particular organization or agency, such as the IRS. From now on, these calls will be against the law.

But that doesn’t mean the calls will stop. These are criminals, after all, and most are outside the jurisdiction of the United States. However, it is possible the U.S. government could work with cooperative foreign governments to ferret them out.

Pai said the rule change will allow the FCC to go after fraudsters operating from the relative safety of another country. More than 40 state attorneys general also support the rule change.

Quick action

Pai proposed the new rules last month, saying weaknesses in the law have allowed fraudsters to continue to spoof international calls and texts. The full FCC voted to approve the changes late last week.

There is no doubt that cracking down on robocalls is a bipartisan crowdpleaser. The FCC says it received more than 35,000 complaints about caller ID spoofing in the first six months of 2019.

The telecom industry is already under FCC pressure to develop a way to block spoofed robocalls. Pai has said he wants a solution in place by the end of this year and reiterated his demand in May.

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