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FCC Takes More Steps to Reduce Robocalls

New rules make it harder for illegal calls originating overseas to reach Americans’ phones

Phone call from unknown number late at night. Scam, fraud or phishing with smartphone concept. Prank caller, scammer or stranger. Man answering to incoming call. Hoax person with fake identity.
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Scammers and others blanket Americans with billions of illegal robocalls annually, many of which originate overseas. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted new rules to help block these automated calls, which have become increasingly vexing for consumers.

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“I’m a consumer, too,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. “I receive robocalls at home, in my office, on my landline, on my mobile. I’ve even received multiple robocalls sitting here on this dais. I want it to stop.”

Robocallers use a variety of deceptive techniques to get you to answer, including spoofing, which tricks caller ID into displaying fake phone numbers. Sometimes those numbers are designed to use your three-digit area code, making the call look like it’s coming from a neighbor — not another country.

The new rules adopted by the FCC on May 19 target what are called gateway providers, which regulators describe as “on-ramps for international call traffic.” Overseas robocallers send a call to a gateway provider, which in turn hands the call off to a U.S. network carrier. Data cited by the FCC indicates that 2 out of 3 voice service providers transmitting illegal robocalls in 2021 were either gateway providers or foreign based.

At the direction of the FCC, most large telecommunication companies use a technical protocol called STIR/SHAKEN to verify that calls originate from the number that shows up on your phone. The new FCC rules compel gateway providers to comply with the same caller ID authentication protocols. Gateway providers are now required to work to block illegal robocalls, take responsibility for illegal robocalls that get through their networks, and aid the FCC in tracing and identifying illegal robocallers.

The FCC had given smaller companies — those with fewer than 100,000 subscribers — an extension until June 30, 2023, to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology. Robocallers simply moved their operations to those smaller companies. In December, the SEC moved up the deadline to June 30, 2022, for those small companies to implement the STIR/SHAKEN protocol.

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Whack-a-mole

The STIR/SHAKEN technology will help reduce robocalls, but scammers can often beat new technology. Some robocall companies, for example, have simply started buying lists of legitimate numbers for their spoofing operations. And robotexting is an increasing problem: The FCC says it has received 15,000 consumer complaints about robotexts in 2021.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has already demanded more than a dozen voice service providers that have apparently facilitated illegal robocall campaigns on their networks immediately cease and desist from those activities. The agency has also handed out major fines — including a record $225 million fine to a health insurance telemarketer — against companies making illegal robocalls.

The FCC says consumers can and should take steps to decrease robocalls:

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information, such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • Talk to your phone company about call-blocking tools they may have, and check into apps you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.

To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry at donotcall.gov. Legitimate telemarketers use the registry to avoid FCC fines for calling numbers on the list.

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John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for  Kiplinger’s Personal Finance  and  USA Today,  and he has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner’s  USA Today  investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.

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