Just $6,790 Of $208 Million In Robocall Fines Have Been Collected By The FCC

from the this-isn't-working 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 (200,000 complaints annually, making up 60% of all FCC complaints), 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. 4.9 billion such calls were placed in February alone.

And while the FCC does routinely fine companies and scammers for robocalling, these aren’t the kind of outfits that tend to leave a forwarding address. In fact of the $208 million in fines doled out by the FCC for robocall related fraud, the FCC has only been able to collect around $6,790 in actual penalties. That includes the recent, headline-grabbing record $120 million fine the FCC levied against a robocaller who had made up to 98 million robocalls during one three-month period. The FTC has similarly collected $121 million out of $1.5 billion penalties doled out to stop the annoying spam calls.

Often, it’s hard to collect because the robocallers in question are just scam organizations that quickly disappear or can’t pay. In other instances, it’s just a lack of follow through at the FCC or Justice Department, something that’s also plagued some of the agency’s rulings against companies like AT&T. Many have been quick to point out that the collection failure highlights how fines alone aren’t really doing much to thwart the problem, especially if authorities can’t or won’t collect them:

“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the Journal wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the Journal said.”

Most technology experts say the real solution to robocalling is finding improved ways to block the calls from reaching consumers in the first place. After years of companies like AT&T blaming everybody but themselves for the industry’s apathy to the problem, carriers have finally promised to begin embracing authentication technologies like SHAKEN/STIR that should make it much harder to spoof numbers and complete these calls in the first place.

FCC boss Ajit Pai recently declared that if carriers don’t deploy such technology this year (something they already planned), he might be forced to actually do his job and hold them more fully accountable for their failures on this front, be it glacial adoption of authentication tech, or providing free robocall tools to existing subscribers, who pay far too much for service to tolerate this scale of apocalyptic annoyance.

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Comments on “Just $6,790 Of $208 Million In Robocall Fines Have Been Collected By The FCC”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I receive 4-10 robocalls per day and my number has been on the Do Not Call list for decades. I haven’t bothered to register a complaint in almost as long.

One feature Apple and Google could add to their phone OSes that would go a long way toward lessening the impact of this problem is an option to set a default ringtone for any number not in your contacts list. Sure, I could go set custom ringtones for the 100s of entries in my contacts list and then set the default ringtone to "none" but that’s a ton of work. A simple option to set a ringtone for unknown numbers would more or less solve this for me. Long overdue anyway.

After all, the FCC has done fuck all about this problem for the last 20 years. Unlikely to change now.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They passed a law, got great headlines.
They fined some scum, got great headlines.

There are no headlines for when they pay up or any attention span left to follow up. We assume they broke the law, they got a punishment and it was carried out.

Unlike many of their headline grabbing projects, this one doesn’t discriminate in what citizens it screws. (See also: Asset Forfeiture Rates in the Valley vs in 90210)

They hum they haw they listen to the companies who allow this to continue complain about how hard it is for them… except they are getting paid and if you remove these scammer pools their income might go down. It’s like Congress can’t remember when phone cramming was a thing & the telcos said it was sooo hard to stop it… until the media reported on how much their cut of the take was… suddenly then can solve this.

One has to wonder how many spam/robo calls members of Congress get… or is it like when their Comcast goes down there is a special desk to support & help them that won’t change their name to asshole on the bill. It would be a pity if we discovered that they’d been protecting legislators from the onslaught so they have no idea how bad it really is.

John85851 (profile) says:

Need to block the calls at their source

Setting a ringtone or flagging a call as spam isn’t the solution, simply because this solution only works for you. What about the other millions of people who haven’t set a ringtone? And even then, the call is still going through to your phone and the robo-calls could easily fill up your voicemail.

The real solution is to stop these calls at the source. And I agree that there needs to be a media push to figure out how much money the telcos make by connecting robo-calls to people. Even if it’s 1 cent per call, 4.9 billion calls comes out to $49 MILLION… in just February alone!
And you can’t tell me the telcos don’t know where the robo-call comes from since they’re obviously connecting one phone to another.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Need to block the calls at their source

Hmm… I can see some possibilities for cell phones.

Two "default" ringtones, one for calls previously OK’d, the other for numbers not in the "phonebook" on the device.

Several choices after ending a call not in the book.

BLOCK future calls (including from voice mail)
ADD TO APPROVED phone book
No Action

Also a Whitelist option for the phone.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I hope it does waste a little of their time wading through the intro before they hang up

Nope. Unless you press the appropriate digit, normally but not uniformly 1, they do not even put you in the queue for a human. You may get the tail end of the message on voice mail, but that is it, unless you affirmatively engage.

Remember: to the callers, you are essentially free. The owner has to give the smelly little scammers in the boiler room the use of phones and lines. Maybe even a few pennies in wages, too. So the guy you talk to if you press `1′ costs money, while you do not.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wonder what the difference is between the US and Denmark where I live. I never get robo-calls. I know it is illegal here to do spam calls unless you have specifically opted in, but that shouldn’t prevent calls from countries and companies that ignore this.
We are a small country, but I would imagine that like everything else there would be a market for it despite the size.
Maybe we have some efficient solutions in place.
I would go completely nuts receiving as many calls as some describe and I would probably get quite a few calls due to my field and being a strong influencer and decision maker in my job.
My point is that what we got, you need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

actually "collecting" these fines is even more difficult than finding the offenders — they probably don’t have the money. Bankruptcy is an easy out. They are adept at routinely re-starting their scam under different business guises.

NSA monitors every phone call on the planet — ya would think NSA could come up with a robocall solution

Koby (profile) says:

Use Debt Collectors

If the U.S. Government isn’t actually collecting on these fines, then they should sell the rights to collect to Debt Collection agencies, just as credit card debts are often sold from the original lender to Collection Companies. The collectors regularly track down the person who owes money, and will PLACE LOTS OF PHONE CALLS, giving the robocallers a nice taste of their own medicine until they pay up. Then if they don’t, then they might file a lawsuit. Even if the collectors don’t actually get some money out of the robocaller operation owners, it would be some delicious justice.

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