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.