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Relief from robocalls

Created date

March 22nd, 2018
Older woman talking on phone, credit card in hand, skeptical look on her face

How many times have you answered the phone only to hear a recorded message instead of a live person? Those are robocalls, and according to YouMail.com, a call-blocking service that also tracks robocall volume, Americans are being bombarded with them.

In the single month of January 2018, 2.9 billion robocalls were placed—that breaks down to about 8.9 calls per person.

The vast majority of robocalls are from debt collectors, credit card companies, and banks. More disturbingly, many robocalls are actually scams offering to lower credit card interest rates or preapprove large loans for people with bad credit.

Given the sheer number of robocalls being made, the problem has reached epic proportions and leaves consumers with little recourse.

‘No-call rights’

“Blocking illegal and unwanted calls isn’t just a nice option to offer, it’s an essential protection from fraud and abuse,” says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at Consumer Federation of America. “Government and industry must take effective steps to ensure that Americans’ no-call rights really work.”

Responding to the growing number of consumer complaints, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules allowing telephone service providers to block some robocalls, specifically, those originating from false or “spoofed” numbers but consumer advocates say the new rules don’t go far enough.

“The FCC rules do something: they allow telephone companies to block spoofed calls from numbers that do not actually exist. But spoofers have simply moved to make fraudulent calls from real numbers—meaning that the rules do not cut down on the spoofed calls at all,” says Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “It’s like closing one door of a double door to keep the mice out—all the vermin will simply rush through the other door. Moreover, the rules are not even mandatory, so telephone companies are free to ignore them.”

Consumer groups want the FCC to do more to defend consumers from unwanted robocalls. They are urging the FCC to:

1. Require voice service providers to provide free, effective caller ID authentication for every call.

2. Require all telephone companies to provide free call-blocking services.

3. Establish an unblocking system and ensure that consumers can control calls they receive. This system should be paid for by the callers, rather than by the telephone providers who would most likely pass the costs along to their customers.

“Bad actors are continuing to find ways around the rules to prevent fraudulent robocalls and take advantage of consumers, but there is more that can be done to protect consumers,” says Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumers Union. “The FCC should ensure that consumers can control the calls they receive by requiring that phone companies provide blocking technology free of charge to consumers.”

Consumers are encouraged to file complaints about unwanted telephone calls with the FCC at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

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