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.

Filed Under: fcc, ftc, robocalls


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 10:52am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 3:02pm

      Re:

      my number has been on the Do Not Call list for decades.

      That seems unlikely, considering it's only existed for 16 years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 4:09pm

        Re: Re:

        I think it's been longer than that, like 1999-2000. But my memory could be faulty. In any case I put my number on that list a long, long time ago. Guess it must have been about when it was created.

        Nice strawman though. Missed the point entirely.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 4:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think it's been longer than that, like 1999-2000.

          It was 2003.

          Nice strawman though.

          Ah yes, the infamous strawman tactic of (checks notes) quoting your exact words, verbatim, and then responding to them.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2019 @ 4:59pm

        Re: Re:

        That seems unlikely, considering it's only existed for 16 years.

        1.6 rounds to 2.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 10:54am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 11:01am

    Robocallers really deserve the death penalty

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 11:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 12:09pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 4:03pm

        Re: Re: Need to block the calls at their source

        If not in the white list, then do not ring and take message if they are so inclined.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OA (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 11:28am

    Just $6,790 Of $208 Million

    That's ok FCC. I'll collect it for you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 11:53am

    It has become so bad that the phone is almost worthless. I do not even look at who is calling anymore, if it is important they will leave a message.

    One feature that would be nice is a delete all messages button.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glen, 5 Apr 2019 @ 12:32pm

    The Pixel phones have call screening on it. I still get the same amount of calls but I hope it does waste a little of their time wading through the intro before they hang up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 16 Apr 2019 @ 2:02am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 1:35pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 1:50pm

    Couldn't they just pay one robocall firm to collect from the others?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2019 @ 2:31pm

      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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 5 Apr 2019 @ 4:19pm

    It seems to me that you could add regulations that require any spoofed number to show up as a spoofed number. Any company spoofing numbers must send a signal with the call that shows up as spoofed or face large fines. Spoofing would remain legal for privacy and allows us to reject spoofed calls if we want to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 5 Apr 2019 @ 5:02pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Richard Bennett, 5 Apr 2019 @ 10:04pm

    Maybe this will stop Bodeface and you pirates from bitching about net neutrality. Now fuck off, adults wish to speak.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2019 @ 6:37am

      Re:

      Yes - it is true, after net neutrality is restored the world will be a much better place and I'm sure you and your cabal are all on board this effort to restore sanity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 6 Apr 2019 @ 6:55am

    Pro-robocall FCC

    If the FCC were collecting 3% of fines, well that might reflect the difficulty in dealing with the players in this industry. A 0.003% collection rate amounts to complicity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2019 @ 9:11am

    but how much has been collected by FCC staff so that the true amounts haven't been collected? is there no official or government department/body that isn't as corrupt as fuck? i'd like to know what the 'Founding Fathers' made of how America is and is run now compared to the vision then

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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