An Update on Robocalling

The FCC has taken a number of actions against robocalling over the last year to try to tamp down on the practice, which every one of us hates. I’ve had the same cellular phone number for twenty-five years, and I attract far more junk calls every day than legitimate business calls.

The FCC has taken a number of specific actions, but so far this hasn’t made a big dent in the overall call volume. Actions taken so far include:

  • The FCC issued cease-and-desist letters to some of the biggest robocallers. For example, in May of this year, the agency ordered VaultTel to stop placing robocalls.
  • The FCC has been fining telemarketers with some of the biggest fines ever issued by the agency. This includes a $225 million fine against a Texas-based health insurance telemarketer for making over one billion spoofed calls. There have been other fines such as $120 million against a Florida time-share company and $82 million against a North Carolina health insurance company.
  • The FCC is hoping that its program for caller ID verification will tamp down significantly on the robocalls. This process, referred to as STIR/SHAKEN requires that underlying carriers verify that a call is originating from an authorized customer. The new protocol has already been implemented by the big carriers like AT&T, but smaller carriers were given more time. The FCC noted recently that it has seen a big shift of robocalling originating from smaller carriers that are not yet part of STIR/SHAKEN.
  • The agency has begun to coordinate efforts with law enforcement to track down and arrest robocallers who continue to flout the rules. That includes working with the U.S. Justice Department and State Attorney Generals.
  • The FCC also gave telephone companies permission to ‘aggressively block’ suspected robocalls. The agency has also encouraged telephone companies to offer advanced blocking tools to customers.

So far, the FCC actions haven’t made a big dent in robocalling. In 2020 we saw about 4 billion robocalls per day. The robocallers picked up the pace of calling in anticipation of getting shut down, and in March of this year, there were over 4.9 million robocalls placed. In the most recently completed month of August, we still saw 4.1 billion robocalls. It appears that the robocallers have just shifted their methods and are able, at this point, to avoid the STIR/SHAKEN restrictions from the big carriers. Hopefully, a lot of this will get fixed when that protocol is mandatory for everybody. The FCC recently announced that it was accelerating the implementation date for a list of carriers that the agency says is originating a lot of the robocalls.

The FCC knew from the start that this wasn’t going to be easy. The process of generating robocalls is now highly mechanized, and a few companies can generate a huge volume of calls. Apparently, the profits from doing this are lucrative enough for robocallers to flirt with the big FCC fines. When I searched Google for the keywords of robocaller and the FCC, the first thing at the top of the list was a company that is still selling robocalling.

We saw the same thing a few years ago with access stimulation, where a few unscrupulous companies and carriers were making big dollars from generating huge volumes of bogus calls in order to bill access charges.

Hopefully, the FCC can eventually put a big dent in robocalling. It’s hard to imagine that anybody is willing to answer a phone call from somebody they don’t know. Hopefully, more giant fines a few major convictions will convince the robocalling companies that it’s not worth it.

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