FCC authorizes aggressive blocking of spoofed and invalid numbers.
Phone companies are now authorized to be more aggressive in blocking robocalls before they reach customers’ landlines or mobile phones, but you might have to pay for the new blocking capabilities.
The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued an order to “expressly authorize voice service providers to block robocalls that appear to be from telephone numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls, without running afoul of the FCC’s call completion rules.”
Carriers will thus have greater ability to block calls in which the Caller ID has been spoofed or in which the number is invalid. Caller ID spoofing hides the caller’s true identity and is one of the biggest sources of illegal robocalls.
“Fraudsters bombard consumers’ phones at all hours of the day with spoofed robocalls, which in some cases lure consumers into scams or lead to identity theft,” the FCC said.
Blocking invalid numbers
The new authorization from the FCC applies to voice service providers including mobile phone carriers, traditional landline phone companies like AT&T and Verizon, and VoIP carriers such as cable companies.
Carriers will be “allowed to block calls purporting to be from invalid numbers, like those with area codes that don’t exist, from numbers that have not been assigned to a provider, and from numbers allocated to a provider but not currently in use,” the FCC said.
Carriers will also be able to block calls from phone numbers that appear to come from numbers placed on a “do-not-originate” list by the number’s subscriber. For example, the Internal Revenue Service might place numbers that it doesn’t use for outbound calls on a do-not-originate list to prevent them from being spoofed by scammers who claim to work on behalf of the IRS.
New blocking tools might not be free
All five FCC commissioners voted in favor of the rule changes, but Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented in part because the FCC will allow carriers to charge for the new robocall-blocking capabilities.
While the agency offers carriers the ability to limit calls from what are likely to be fraudulent actors, it fails to prevent them from charging consumers for this service. So this is the kicker: the FCC takes action to ostensibly reduce robocalls but then makes sure you can pay for the privilege. If you ask me, that’s ridiculous.
Charges for more aggressive robocall blocking could vary by carrier. For example, Verizon launched a new robocall blocking service in late June, but the company charges $3 a month for the service while carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile offer similar services for no extra charge. There are also third-party call-blocking services that consumers can pay for.
Last year, then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urged carriers to offer free call-blocking services.
Aggressive robocall blocking carries the risk of blocking legitimate calls. The FCC is thus seeking public comment “on a process for legitimate companies to resolve call blocking disputes,” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said. Subscribers whose numbers have been blocked without their consent should be given a simple method to challenge a block and get it lifted quickly, the FCC said.
US consumers receive about 2.5 billion robocalls a month. Not all of them are illegal, but many are made by scammers intending to get money from victims.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai assured carriers that yesterday’s order is not adding new requirements. Carriers will be allowed to block more robocalls, but they won’t be forced to.
“It is important to stress that today’s action is deregulatory in nature. We aren’t piling more rules upon industry,” Pai said. “Instead, we’re providing relief from FCC rules that are having the perverse effect of facilitating unlawful and unwanted robocalls.” Generally speaking, phone companies have an obligation to deliver every phone call, but the FCC is making exceptions in order to let carriers step up blocking of obviously fraudulent calls.