34 State AGs Demand The FCC Do More To End Annoying Robocalls

from the sorry-I-was-eating-dinner dept

Despite endless government initiatives and countless promises from the telecom sector, our national robocall hell continues. Robocalls from telemarketers continue to be the subject the FCC receives the most complaints about, and recent data from the Robocall Index indicates that the problem is only getting worse. Consumers continue to be hammered by mortgage interest rate scams, credit card scams, student loan scams, business loan scams, and IRS scams. In September, the group found that 4.4 billion robocalls were placed to consumers at a rate of 147 million per day. The trend is not particularly subtle:

The trend continues skyward despite the fact that the FCC passed new rules in 2015 expanding the ability of telecommunication companies to block robocalls and spam messages at the request of customers. And in 2016, the agency created a “robocalling strike force” tasked with crafting solutions for the problem. Additional rules dropped in 2017 taking aim at robocall spoofing.

So why is this still a problem? For one thing, cheap, internet-routed calling and spoofing options have outpaced both legal and technical solutions, leaving regulators and lawmakers in a perpetual race to catch up from behind. Flimsy security standards embedded in most caller ID systems also make spoofing phone numbers relatively trivial. Enforcement is also inconsistent (in part because smaller robocallers are often much easier to defeat in court than major companies), and years of apathy, blame shifting, and tap dancing by major carriers like AT&T certainly didn’t help.

To that end, 34 State attorneys general signed a formal request this week urging the FCC to do more to thwart the problem. Comments made to the FCC make it clear that the FCC’s 2017 spoofing rules didn’t go far enough, so the AGs are requesting that the FCC create additional, more tailored rules to tackle things like “neighbor spoofing”:

“One specific method which has evolved recently is a form of illegal spoofing called ?neighbor spoofing.? A neighbor-spoofed call will commonly appear on a consumer?s caller ID with the same area code and local exchange as the consumer to increase the likelihood he/she will answer the call. In addition, consumers have recently reported receiving calls where their own phone numbers appeared on their caller ID. A consumer who answered one such call reported the caller attempted to trick her by saying he was with the phone company and required personal information to verify the account, claiming it had been hacked. Scams like this cannot be tolerated.”

The AGs also encouraged the FCC to bring some additional pressure on carriers to speed up the deployment of STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs), protocol frameworks that should make it notably easier to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls. Hopefully the FCC can take a brief break from ignoring the public and kissing up to widely despised telecom monopolies to consider the request.

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Comments on “34 State AGs Demand The FCC Do More To End Annoying Robocalls”

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Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This is the fundamental conundrum….

Given this logical extension of Citizen’s united, and the fact that borders really don’t seem to exist on the internet, just what is “election interference” from a foreign country, and how does it differ from “advertising” by a company or campaign or “organic speech” from individuals…..

We really haven’t worked out the consequences of “everyone to everyone” communications yet….

I think, on principle, that we need to begin by recognizing that the constitution applies to all actions of the US government, worldwide.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Id say he’s arguing the opposite. That the protections of the constitution apply to everyone, and the government remains restrained by constitutional limitations, even when acting abroad (So no drone strikes based on metadata).

But I suppose requiring US Agents to act within the boundaries of US law and the constitution when abroad implies that we actually leave the country and therefore are imperialist.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What??? Let everyone actually call the RNC?? /s

That would be much too peer-to-peer, too egalitarian. But its probably part of the solution.

Zero-marginal cost (to send) messages are a form of displaced cost, just like pollution. It costs you much more to filter out to the ones you want to pay attention to.

Same for this post, actually…several people will have to read it (at a cost) to determine whether it is just worthless garbage, but my cost to send is zero.

My actual profession is a logician…and it is a conundrum because I have worked myself into a corner with the unintended consequences!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I do something very similar. I kept my out of state number when I moved. Now, if I get a call from a “local number” I know not to answer it, but if I get a local call from where I presently live, it’s far more likely to be legit, especially if I am expecting a call. Otherwise I just don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize. Businesses sometimes come up as restricted though, and they won’t get an answer either (they can leave VM and I’ll get back to them if necessary).

Christenson says:

The Moderation Problem in another guise...

Robocalling is really a surface symptom of a deeper issue:

Automated messages are “basically free” (zero marginal cost to send), just like spam e-mails, so of course there’s a lot of them, very small response rates pay nicely.

And public service (for example, positively identifying the source of a call, and taking real action when caller ID data is faked) costs money, so no, the big telecoms aren’t interested.

Now, if you are alert, you will notice that this is a call to make anonymous calling impossible, and, like Techdirt, I think that has quite a bit of value for whistleblowers and generally enabling the first amendment. I don’t know how to resolve the dilemma.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The Moderation Problem in another guise...

So true that the device manufactures could provide more options to allow for greater control over who can ring you up and who can’t. Android has a few apps that seem to get most of the job done, but APPLE has refused to provide a way to block the calls that Android does.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hopefully the FCC can take a brief break from ignoring the public and kissing up to widely despised telecom monopolies to consider the request.

There isnt a hope in hell of Pai doing anything because the telecoms companies are getting backhanders for not stopping these calls and so is Pai. His whole aim is to do whatever he can to ensure the phone services and internet services for yhe public are as useless as they can be while ensuring the providers glean as much profit as possible. This is why he was given the job, not to make sure the public got good deals and protection from rip offs and scams?

DOlz (profile) says:

Have fun with them

I admit I have fun with the ones calling from “Microsoft” about suspicious internet activity on my Windows (I use a Mac) computer. Sometimes I play the tech illiterate old man; computer is that what I watch Matlock on? Other times I demand to know when they installed spyware on my computer. My favorite is trying to get them to tell me if they’re from Microsoft exactly which operating system I’m using and hardware details.

For some reason they always hang up on me.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Have fun with them

This is actually a good idea since it wastes their time and costs them money every time hit a “sucker” like you.
If everyone else played with scammers like this, their scams would start to become unaffordable, and there would be no reason to do it any more. After all, I’m sure it’s like any other call center and they have to hit certain metrics like scam victim per calls or credit cards per calls or whatever. They don’t want to spend 15 minutes per call with someone who wastes their time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Have fun with them

The difference between the calls and spam email is that my spam blocking (gmail) works rather well. Most days I see zero spam in my inbox. Nothing blocks these monster phone calls.

Tom Mabe apparently did prank a “telemarketer” in 2011 and recorded it:


Rather humorous.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft discovered malware in my Linux!

I got this call again just today. After the recording I always press one. I also ask them to tell me what is wrong with my Windows before I cuss them out & tell them I’m using Linux. I still have a Windows 8.1 machine I have not had online in a couple years since Microsoft bricked updates for 7th generation processors. Still have some software I could not find as good for Linux. Other programs I found better & free. Windows is still more reliable for large file transfers.

The only way to cut down on these annoyances is to get a phone you can block numbers. My Panasonic blocks up to 250. This only works for repeat offenders, but there are plenty of them. I see the phone light up for one silent ring & it says CALLER BLOCKED.

I have gotten the one spoofing my own ID MANY times. Right, I’m calling myself from my own phone!

Nathan F (profile) says:

How I deal with robo calls is, when a call from a number I don’t recognize comes in I go ahead and pick up. I just remain silent. The automated systems on the other end are waiting for someone to say something so that it knows there is a person on the other end, if it doesn’t hear anything after 10 seconds it hangs up. If there is an actual person on the other end after a moment of silence they will say something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

and then there are those callers that are only looking for a live number with a real person to then send their silly crapola to.

My favorite is the broken english IRS call complete with background that makes it sound like a Grand Central train station pay phone. Then they threaten to have you arrested, lol – do not respond as they will then swat you.

John85851 (profile) says:

States should make their own rules

Why don’t these 35 AG’s follow California’s decision on net neutrality: if the federal government won’t do anything, then do it themselves. Tell the phone carriers that they have to include these new policies or they can’t do business in the state. Start fining the companies for every 100 or 1,000 spoofed calls they allow over their network. After all, like other people have said, if the phone companies know where to send the bill, then then know where the call originates from.

Anonymous Coward says:

I use a program on my iPhone and it also works on Android phones called “Hiya” It has free service, and paid service which isn’t much. But it’ll tell you if it’s a Telemarketer, or they’re spoofing a number, etc.

It’s not 100% perfect, but it has been getting 99% of them for me. The ones it doesn’t get, you can enter into the Database and tell it what type of call it was, so that you help block it for others. It does overall work well. Go check it out. The call blocking list is completely worthless. Trying to get the government to do something more? Try a free market solution instead.

Your Cellphone provider may have some free and Paid options also. I know for T-Mobile that I use, you can turn on, ScamID which will block Scam calls. That is free. But it only blocks those scam calls they know about as HiYa as blocked some of those for me also. But that doesn’t block Telemarketers, or Spoofed numbers, or other types of calls.


Anonymous Coward says:

I get between 5-8 calls per day. The spoofed numbers show my local exchange. I block them on my cell phone but I know that’s useless. When I answer, about 1/2 the time there’s only silence. Today it’s my car insurance is about to expire. Yesterday, my credit card. Sometimes I answer “Police precinct” in (what I hope is) an authoritative voice. All really useless. Sometimes I press “1” and when someone comes on the line I am as nasty and vulgar as I can be. Yes, also useless but it’s sometimes, even if very little.

Anonymous Coward says:

Solving the wrong problem

Scam calls are annoying, but trying to suppress them is treating a symptom, not the disease. The right way to kill off scams is to make them unprofitable to operate regardless of the delivery vehicle used. Instead of trying to make it hard to deliver their message, focus on trying to make it hard to profit from them even when they "succeed."

For the credit card scams, develop mechanisms to prevent the scammer from using the card information even when the victim falls for the scam. For example, set up card charges so that the vendor provides a challenge code to the customer, which the customer must process through an app or a smartcard for the charge to complete. This would restrict the scammer to at most one successful purchase per victimization. If the challenge code includes the dollar amount, the victim will need to be told how much the charge will be, which forces the scammers either to take small wins or to hope for victims so vulnerable that they authorize huge purchases over the phone. (Such people probably exist, especially if you consider victims with reduced mental capacity. Even so, many victims aren’t in that category, so this cuts into profitability.)

For the personal information scams, reduce the marketability of having that personal information. For the U.S., publish all the Social Security Numbers and associated names. They’re probably floating around on the criminal markets anyway, thanks to Equifax, so there’s not much point in letting institutions keep pretending that knowing the SSN is proof of identity. Reclassify that as public information and force the financial institutions to use some actually secureable data for proof of identity, preferably something that can be easily updated in the case of another breach.

For the loan and IRS scams – those I don’t have a good answer. The obvious answer is "educate recipients on how to recognize a scam", but the authorities have been trying that for years and it clearly hasn’t taken. Many of those are just lead-ins to personal information or credit card scamming though, so the mitigations above should help here too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Because the political parties added a loop hole for themselves I won’t use the ‘Do Not Call’ and give them a valid number to call. I see no difference in political spam than I to in robocalls other than the topic.

My solution has become not to answer the phone unless I know you. If you are not in my contact list then as soon as you hang up, no matter who you are, your number is going in the block list. It is the one sure way, I no longer deal with robocalls or political spam.

Jim P. (profile) says:

Stupid people

The whole robocall system would fall apart if we simply bred a smarter class of people. These things continue and grow simply because they make money.

There seems a limitless pool of people who simply have no working brain, no ability to even try to discern if something is legitimate or not so that even the most obvious scams fool people repeatedly.

And until the person picking up the phone become bright enough to ignore this stuff and the spammers starve from lack of response, nothing will improve much.

But then, if enough people started showing critical thinking skills, the churches and casinos would go out of business too.

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