You’ve given up on trusting your phone. Every time you answer, even when the area code is local, it’s just another robocall. Someone trying to steal your personal information, or claiming to be from the IRS, or promising to erase your credit card debt. You know it’s probably a scam, but it’s still infuriating. Your phone has been commandeered by criminals.
State AGs Call For New Tools In Fight Against Robocalls
The vast majority of robocalls placed today are illegal. Last year, 30 billion illegal robocalls were placed to American phones. That number is expected to increase to 40 billion over the coming year. It’s getting out of hand. Most of us don’t even answer our phones anymore.
Now, 35 state attorneys general are asking the Federal Communications Commission to ramp up its efforts in the fight against illegal robocalls, calling on FCC commissioners in a new formal comment to “target and eliminate unlawful robocalls.”
As the attorneys general note, almost anyone today can send out millions of unwanted, harassing robocalls with technology that is virtually free to use online.
“Law Enforcement Alone Will Not Solve The Problem”
The attorneys general stress that law enforcement alone will not be enough to stem the tide of robocalls:
“Our respective Consumer Protection Offices receive and respond to tens of thousands of consumer complaints each year concerning the disruptive and abusive nature of these calls. We then attempt to identify and target potential wrongdoers. However, it is common for our efforts to be frustrated, as these types of calls travel through a maze of smaller providers. If the calling party is found at all, he or she is most often located overseas, making enforcement difficult.”
Of particular note is the practice of caller ID “spoofing,” in which a caller hides or disguises their caller ID information to trick consumers into picking up. Neighbor spoofing, in which the robocaller uses a local area code, is most common, but the scammers also pose as government office numbers and law enforcement authorities.
State Law Enforcement Officials Identify Holes In FCC Strategy
Led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the coalition of state attorneys general are pleading with the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules that would allow telecom providers to block more illegal robocalls at the source.
Following a legal action spearheaded by Shapiro, the FCC last year loosened rules that prohibited telecom providers from discriminating between telephone calls. That opened the way for major telecommunications companies, including Sprint, Verizon and AT&T, to start blocking suspicious robocalls before they reached consumers’ phones.
But robocallers found a way around the measure, the attorneys general write. Cases of neighbor spoofing, for example, were not covered by the FCC’s order. Nor was the emerging tactic in which callers glance at their caller ID, only to see their own phone number represented on the screen.
Attorneys General Support STIR/SHAKEN Initiative
Now, the attorneys general are throwing their weight behind STIR/SHAKEN, a new industry initiative that would institute a national call authentication system.
Developed by major industry players, STIR/SHAKEN would use encrypted digital certificates to transmit information about the provenance and authenticity of caller ID information between telecom providers. That would allow telecom companies to learn more about each call, and block ones that appear to be fraudulent.
Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have all announced plans to implement STIR/SHAKEN by 2019.
Robocall Scams Disproportionately Impact The Elderly
“I’m taking new action with my colleagues to continue the fight to protect Pennsylvanians and Americans from these bothersome and illegal robocall scams, which are used to scam seniors and other vulnerable populations,” says Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “As Attorney General, I take seriously my role to protect consumers from scams of all kinds. The FCC should create new rules to let telephone service providers block more types of illegal robocalls.”
Attorneys General Band Together For Action
Pennsylvania’s Attorney General is joined in the formal comment by the attorneys general from Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.
Half Of All Robocalls Are Fraudulent
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a federal law passed in 1991, was passed to prohibit the vast majority of robocalls. To operate legally, people who want to use robocalling technology (known in law as automatic dialing systems) are required to obtain your prior express written consent. Since most of us haven’t consented (in writing) to receive robocalls, most of the robocalls we receive are illegal.
This is true as a broader point, the attorneys general note:
“Non-consensual robocalling in the telemarketing context is abusive and unlawful in and of itself. Many illegal robocallers, however, simply do not care about the law and have a more insidious agenda – casting a net of illegal robocalls to ensnare vulnerable victims in scams to steal money or sensitive personal information. In fact, reports indicate, of the 4 billion illegal robocalls made just this past August, 1.8 billion were associated with a scam.”