PINDROP BLOG

Critics Say Robocall Strike Force Plan Falls Short

With the release of its initial report to the FCC yesterday, the Robocall Strike Force laid out plans to implement technical and policy solutions to address the robocall problem, including a Do Not Originate List and more sophisticated traceback techniques. But consumer advocates say that these ideas, while good, aren’t enough to address the problem in the short term.

The strike force on Wednesday delivered the report to the FCC, which convened the group in August with the goal of finding ways to defeat illegal robocalls. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in July sent letters to the CEOs of the major wireless and wireline carriers, urging them to develop anti-robocall technologies that would protect consumers without adding costs for them. The group is led by AT&T but also includes Sprint, Verizon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and many other carriers and technology companies. The strike force delivered its report to the commission Wednesday, and said in it that the caller ID spoofing technologies scammers use is one of the bigger hurdles they face.

“The FCC has been encouraging service providers to offer call blocking solutions that give customers greater control over the types of calls they receive. Call blocking is one part of the robocall solution. Another part is identifying the bad actors who use robocalls to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers by using numbers assigned to others (spoofing),” the strike force report says.

“They use cheap and accessible technologies to spoof their caller identity and scam victims with threats from the IRS, offers of loans, or free travel. The Strike Force is committed to protecting customers, but these disguised calls have put investigators and enforcers at a disadvantage.”

One of the major efforts that the group has undertaken is the establishment of a Do Not Originate list, which would allow owners to designate certain phone numbers as never being able to originate calls. This would help prevent scammers from spoofing numbers belonging to the IRS, charities, and other legitimate organizations. The DNO list has been in a trial for several weeks and has reduced the volume of IRS tax scam calls by 90 percent. The list likely won’t be fully implemented on carrier networks for some time, however.

“This latest plan is half a loaf, if that. Robocalls are a major source of frustration for consumers who are tired of being harassed by unwanted calls from scam artists and shady telemarketers,” Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumers Union, said in a statement on the report.

“These efforts are aimed at getting better solutions in the future, but consumers need relief now. The phone companies should take immediate action by offering their customers the best call-blocking protection currently available.”

One of the main goals that Wheeler set out in his memo to the carriers was for them to develop free call-blocking technologies for consumers. That hasn’t happened yet, and at Wednesday’s meeting Wheeler again emphasized the need for the technology. There are third-party apps for wireless phones that block robocalls, but the FCC wants carriers to offer their own solutions. Mahoney said these solutions are overdue.

“The phone companies should get to work developing these new call-blocking technologies and let their customers know how soon they will be adopted,” Mahoney said.  “But consumers have waited long enough for action.  It’s time for the phone companies to start delivering real solutions.”

Image from Flickr stream of raindog808. CC By 2.0 license.

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