FCC launches crackdown on fraudulent robocalls

FCC launches crackdown on fraudulent robocalls
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday took its first step to crack down on illegal robocalls.

The often-fraudulent calls disguise the phone numbers they call from — a move known as spoofing — to circumvent existing rules. Scammers take advantage of spoofing by posing as government agencies, like the IRS, and tricking consumers into believing they owe outstanding fines.

The proposed rules, which the FCC voted unanimously to move forward with, would allow telecom providers to block calls from numbers that are not assigned to phones and that are no longer in use.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that robocallers typically target those who are least equipped to sniff out scams.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Robocalls often take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our population.They scam elderly Americans out of their hard-earned dollars,” said Pai, who added that robocalls were the top consumer complaint to the FCC.

The Treasury Department estimates that $54 million has been lost on such scams since October 2013.

“This calls for a multi-pronged, high-powered approach, that includes tough enforcement of our rules; a commitment by industry to implement better call blocking technologies; and technology that empowers consumers, with the means to decide which calls should be blocked, particularly those calls that may be unwanted but not necessarily illegal,” Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said of the proposed rules to mitigate robocalls.

Moves to stop robocalls have also garnered industry support. The Robocall Strike Force, which is chaired by AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson and composed of other telecom execs, has asked the FCC for solutions and taken their own measures to mitigate IRS scam calls, with FCC permission.

Verizon, a member of the Strike Force, also noted its support for proposal in a statement on Thursday.

“We look forward to participating fully in the proceeding,” the company said. “Verizon is working to address this problem in a number of ways.  We’re continuing to work with enforcement agencies and others to trace back suspicious robocalls, supporting legislative efforts to address the 'spoofing' problem.”

The FCC will seek further comment on the proposed rules and will consider public input on them.