The FCC’s Push to Combat Robocalls & Spoofing

The FCC is working to, as Chairman Pai says, “stop the scourge of illegal robocalls.” He has made combating unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing his top consumer protection priority. By proposing and implementing effective policy initiatives and pursuing targeted enforcement actions, the FCC has been taking a bold stand to protect and empower consumers.

A Top Priority

Unwanted calls are far and away the biggest consumer complaint to the FCC with over 200,000 complaints each year—around 60 percent of all the complaints we receive. Some private analyses estimate that U.S. consumers received approximately 2.4 billion robocalls per month in 2016. Unfortunately, advancements in technology make it cheap and easy to make robocalls and to “spoof” caller ID information to hide a caller’s true identity.

Chairman Pai and other FCC staff get these calls too. He told Opens a New Window. NPR’s Planet Money recently: “So every now and then, even on my work Blackberry, I’ll see a call that seems to be coming . . . from the 202 area code, which is here in Washington—and then our prefix for these Blackberries. And I know for a fact that, you know, it’s probably not someone calling from the office. Sometimes, I answer just for the heck of it. And it’s—lo and behold, I’ve won a vacation… .”

We know that these calls are a major concern of millions of Americans, and scam calls in particular can result in very real financial losses and serious consumer frustration. We are therefore committed to using every resource in our tool box and working closely with private, public, and international partners to combat unlawful robocalls and spoofing. The FCC explained these efforts in its first ever report on illegal robocalls.

FCC Action

Chairman Pai has launched several important public policy initiatives to help combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing. The Commission under his leadership has also taken unprecedented enforcement actions to punish those who flout consumer protection laws.

Call-Blocking Rules

In November 2017, the FCC adopted new rules allowing phone companies to proactively block calls that appear to be from telephone numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls, without running afoul of the FCC’s call completion policies. For example, the new rules allow phone companies to block calls purporting to be from numbers of trusted entities that do not actually make calls from those numbers (e.g., the IRS call scam), from invalid numbers (like those with area codes that don’t exist), from numbers that have not been assigned to a provider, and from numbers allocated to a provider but not currently in use.

Reliable Call Authentication

The Commission has succeeded in prompting real progress in call authentication. Starting with a formal inquiry in July 2017, the FCC sought public input on the best way to establish a reliable system to verify the caller ID information that appears on the recipient’s phone. This resulted in a North American Numbering Council-recommended framework for implementing an industry-developed standard to help prevent illegal attempts to trick consumers through caller ID spoofing. This framework would establish a reliable authentication system that will help strengthen call-blocking services and unmask spoofed calls. Chairman Pai welcomed this effort and, in November 2018, demanded that the phone industry adopt a robust call authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing and implement that system in 2019. In February 2019, the Chairman welcomed many carriers’ commitment to meeting this timeline, called on others to “catch up,” and made clear that the FCC would consider regulatory intervention if necessary.

Reducing Unwanted Calls to Reassigned Numbers

The FCC wants to reduce unwanted calls to reassigned numbers. When a consumer gets a new phone number, he or she may receive unwanted calls intended for the consumer that previously held that number. Today, legitimate callers, such as businesses, often lack the information they need to learn about phone number reassignments and avoid calling reassigned numbers. To confront this problem, the FCC adopted new rules to create a reassigned numbers database that will reduce the number of unwanted phone calls Americans receive.

Major Fines Against Spoofers

During Chairman Pai’s tenure leading the FCC, the agency has taken first-of-their-kind enforcement actions totaling well over $200 million against two telemarketers for apparent illegal caller ID spoofing—including so-called neighbor spoofing, where calls appear to be from local callers. These included the largest FCC fine ever imposed against a Florida-based time-share marketing operation, an $82 million fine against a North Carolina-based health insurance telemarketer, and a $37.5 million proposed fine of an Arizona marketer which apparently made millions of spoofed calls that appear to come from consumers Opens a New Window.

Consumer Tips

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
  • If the caller claims to be from a legitimate company or organization, hang up and call them back using a valid number found on their website or on your latest bill if you do business with them.
  • If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to press a button to stop receiving calls, or asks you to say “yes” in response to a question, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, live respondents, or to use your “yes” to apply unauthorized charges on your bill.
  • Be Aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number no longer means it is necessarily a local caller.
  • If you answer and the caller asks for payment using a gift card, it’s likely a scam. Legitimate organizations like law enforcement will not ask for payment with a gift card.
  • If you receive a scam call, file a complaint with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center by selecting the “phone” option and selecting “unwanted calls.” The data we collect helps us track trends and supports our enforcement investigations.
  • If you have lost money because of a scam call, contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • Ask your phone company if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage them to offer one. You can also visit the FCC’s website for more information about illegal robocalls and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
  • Consider registering your telephone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. Lawful telemarketers use this list to avoid calling consumers on the list.