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FCC Cracks Down On Billions Of Robocalls Every Month, Allows Phone Companies To Easily Block Them

24 March 2017, 1:12 am EDT By Katrina Pascual Tech Times
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The Federal Communications Commission has vowed to double up on its mission against illegal robocalls that annoy and even scam millions of Americans every day.

In its new proposed rules released March 23, the agency said it would push for phone companies to target as well as block robocalls that emerge from seemingly unassigned or illegitimate phone numbers. The move is expected to slash the estimated 2.4 billion auto-calls every month, many of which are fraudulent.

Cracking Down On Illegal Auto-Calls

According to FCC chair Ajit Pai, robocalls are the top consumer complaint to their agency from the American public. These, he added, could include scammers pretending to be tax officials demanding payments or asking leading questions prompting victims to reveal personal information.

A particularly pernicious category is spoofed robocalls or where the caller ID is fake and hides the caller’s real identity.

“Fraudsters bombard consumers’ phones at all hours of the day with spoofed robocalls, which in some cases lure consumers into scams … or lead to identity theft,” said the FCC in its statement [PDF].

The new FCC proposal gives providers greater leeway in blocking spoofed robocalls, specifically those that appear to be from invalid phone numbers or those not assigned to a voice service company.

“There is no reason why any legitimate caller should be spoofing an unassigned or invalid phone number. It’s just a way for scammers to evade the law,” wrote Pai in a blog post announcing the new proposal.

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, citing a study from December 2016, revealed that more than 1 out of 10 U.S. adults fall prey to phone scams.

Private Firms: Support And Backlash

Phone companies largely support the FCC’s campaign against these robocalls. In 2016, AT&T helped create an industry group to address the problem, while Verizon expressed its support in a statement and condemned “unscrupulous telemarketers” and those who circumvent “do not call” lists and robocalls-deterring tools.

The public can submit feedback on the proposal, which will likely be finalized later this year.

Major companies have faced criticism for depending on robocalls. Back in 2015, PayPal faced backlash for largely pushing many users to agree to receive robocalls from them. It later reversed its decision amid public complaints and letters from government officials.

Other Issues On The FCC Agenda

Early this month, Pai vowed to put robocalls on top of FCC’s agenda, which it tackled and finally voted this week. Other crucial issues include prison phones, phone regulations, channel sharing, video relay service, and eliminating outdated requirements for providers.

The FCC chair sought to end cellphone calls in prison, which he considered contraband and can be used by some to continue criminal acts even while behind bars. These calls, he warned, could allow them to run drug operations and even order hits on target personalities.

He also wanted to improve the FCC tool Video Relay Service, which caters to the hearing-challenged through signs and voice translation based on the American Sign Language. Pai wanted to introduce specialized interpreters.

Further, Pai aimed to cut requirements for international telecom providers, as he articulated during his Mobile World Congress speech.

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