Telecom Carriers to Block Spoofed Calls From Reaching Consumers

Technology & Telecommunications   |   Telecommunications   |   Telephone Consumer Protection Act   |   August 29, 2017
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On August 3, the FCC proposed an $82 million fine against a company and its individual owner/operator for making millions of illegally spoofed “robocalls” to consumers across the country. According to the FCC News Release, spoofing— a practice prohibited by the Truth in Caller ID Act— is the deliberate falsifying of caller ID information to disguise the caller’s identity “with the intent to harm, defraud consumers, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

With the proposal of this fine, the FCC continues its focus on addressing the significant consumer problem of unwanted calls, many of which are intended to defraud consumers. The scope of the harmful potential of this intrusive practice is becoming increasingly apparent. For example, the IRS reported that the notorious “IRS Scam,” in which the caller (real or automated) self-identifies as an IRS agent trying to collect unpaid taxes under threat of arrest or deportation, has conned consumers out of more than $54 million to date. 

The Commission is now taking direct action to attack the illegal practices of robocalling and spoofing through enforcement actions, such as the proposed fine, and by implementing policies designed to help service providers and consumers block these calls, which violate the Truth in Caller ID Act, Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and other laws.

To further these efforts, on March 23, the FCC adopted the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry, which seeks to create a safe harbor for telecommunications carriers from call completion rules when the carriers rely on objective criteria to detect and block calls believed to be illegal or spoofed. Carriers have been aggressively working to identify robocallers and alert their customers about the potential danger of an incoming call. The Commission will determine the specific objective criteria on which the carriers will be able to rely in blocking calls on behalf of their customers.

The FCC recognizes that the general prohibition on carriers blocking calls must be tempered by the public’s interest in being protected from predatory calling techniques. The Notice of Inquiry sought comments on clarifying the scope of the carriers’ methods to block calls before they can reach consumers. It proposes to allow the blocking of calls originating from “invalid numbers, valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider, and valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber.” The Commission also sought input on any additional factors that should be considered as criteria for preemptive call blocking.

In addition, the Notice of Inquiry proposes codifying an existing provision of a 2016 Public Notice that allows service providers to block calls at the request of a subscriber despite the general prohibition on call blocking.

Comments were due July 3, and reply comments on July 31. Telecom carriers can expect the final rules to take effect sometime in late 2017. 

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