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The fight against robocalls

In recent years, telemarketers have used technology to pester consumers with prerecorded calls that are unwanted, frequently deceptive, and total in the hundreds of millions, nationally. If you answer the phone, and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it is a robocall. Many of these are probably scams. Oftentimes, these robocalls are run by scammers using autodialed, prerecorded messages to target unsuspecting consumers to steal money, personal information, or both.

To get consumers to answer these robocalls, scammers often fake the name and number that shows up on your Caller ID. This practice is called spoofing. Common methods of spoofing include using local phone numbers, known as neighbor spoofing, or numbers that resemble those of government agencies and legitimate businesses to fool consumers into thinking that a call is legitimate.

In 2018, in the United States alone, there were 47.8 billion robocalls, an increase of 56.8% over 2017. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) receives 200,000 complaints each year reporting robocalls—the largest consumer complaint that the agency deals with regularly. As such, the FCC has made combatting unlawful robocalls and Caller ID spoofing its top consumer protection priority. To help resolve these issues, the FCC recently introduced new rules regarding Caller ID authentication. Additionally, service providers are implementing new technology that will prevent Caller ID spoofing by authenticating Caller ID from the point a call originates and passing along the validation to the Caller ID displayed on a consumer’s phone.

These technology standards are known as the SHAKEN/STIR Caller ID Authentication Framework. The FCC is rapidly attempting to qualify these capabilities. Chairman Ajit Pai recently hosted a summit focused on the industry’s implementation of the technology. The FCC has also issued enforcement actions totaling over $240 million against three telemarketers for apparent Caller ID spoofing. It is also working with industry groups that share information among carriers and providers to help trace the traffic of illegal calls to the originating provider.

Consumers can take self-help measures to lessen the number of robocalls they receive, such as:

  • Ignoring calls from unknown numbers and letting them go to voicemail.
  • If you answer a call and the caller claims to be from a legitimate company or organization, hang up and call back using a valid number found on their website.
  • If you answer and the caller asks you to press a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up.
  • Be aware that Caller ID showing a local number no longer means that it is a local caller.
  • File a complaint with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center.
  • Register your telephone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry.

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