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Cellphones 'under attack' from robocalls, consumer advocates warn

Telemarketers could soon be allowed to robocall your cellphone without your permission, consumer advocates fear, prompting them to warn that "cellphones are under attack."

The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) warn the FCC is "poised to open the floodgates" to robocalls from banks and debt collectors. 

Based on conversations they've had with the FCC, the consumer advocates say they're concerned the agency will "gut" the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits telemarketers from robocalling a cellphone without the owner's permission.

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“Currently, robocalls (or texts) to cell phones are illegal unless the cell phone owner has provided consent," said Margot Saunders, counsel to the National Consumer Law Center. "Repeated unauthorized calls and texts to consumers’ cell phones invade privacy and cost money by using their precious minutes or limited text allowances.”

The consumer advocates say they are concerned the FCC will cave into repeated requests from industry to loosen the robocall restrictions. 

They point to petitions from groups like the American Bankers Association and Consumer Bankers Association calling for the FCC to allow so-called "wrong party" robocalls to cellphones.

This occurs when a telemarketer obtains a cellphone number previously owned by someone else who had consented to robocalls, or when they associate the number with the wrong person.

Banks complain this policy has unnecessarily subjected them to lawsuits against when they accidentally dialed the wrong number.

This ensures "that good actors and innovators are not needlessly subjected to enforcement actions or lawsuits, which could discourage them from offering new consumer-friendly communications services," the American Bankers Association wrote in its petition to the FCC.

But the consumer advocates say banks should take advantage of technology advancements that allow them to determine when cellphone numbers have been transferred. 

“We hope that the FCC will resist the pressure from business and industry trade groups to weaken rules that prevent robocalls to cell phones without consent,” Saunders said.

The FCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.