April 17, 2017
Only Talk to Humans Again: FCC Proposal to End Robocall Scams
For most people, the perks of caller ID and voicemail has allowed them to not answer phone calls that we do not know or prefer to avoid. This practice has definitely reduced the effectiveness of solicitations and especially robocalls to some degree, but they are not gone. Last year alone, every US household received around 260 robocalls. Beyond the mere annoyance that these calls give to their recipients, there are large scale scams, such as those relating to fake IRS debts, which typically include callback requests and threats of jail time without immediate payment. This means that the large amount of those that are most attacked by these attacks are the most vulnerable groups in the US, the elderly. In an effort to combat these types of horrible incidents, the IRS releases an annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams and seeks to educate citizens that the IRS does not every demand immediate payment. However, these scams are not just confined to the IRS. These scams including offers of free vacation, loan debts, and Google listings cost Americans $7.4 billion per year, with 11% of consumers losing some amount of money to these scams.
The method of reducing or eliminating these scams and annoyances have been multifold. Some of the simpler, yet not overly effective methods are education against giving money over the phone without an independent verification. This method does not work for the targeted groups here that are susceptible to these scams. The best method to stop these scams is to not let the calls ever get to consumers. The FCC is hoping that their recent proposals will do just that with provider call-blocking. Laws currently do not allow call-blocking by call providers, but this all may change soon. Currently, there are multiple call blocking options, such as Nomorobo, that already exist to allow consumers to block robocalls and companies like AT&T have created network-level robocall blocking as well. Most of these rely on lists of numbers for known robocall originators and use that to block calls. This is from the consumer side typically and likely would not be used by those suspectible to scams. This same concept could be used more large scale for all consumers by providers if the FCC would allow it.
While eliminating scams from robocalls is an admirable goal that may be achievable at least in part, it is important not to give call providers too much leeway to determine what phone calls to block. There must be a high standard created for the calls which should be blocked, as it is important that legitimate calls are not blocked. That has been the heart of the FCC reluctance to allow provider call blocking up until now and continues to be a possible difficulty. However, the method here of blocking calls that are coming from unassigned or invalid numbers does help to reduce the chance of unintended blocked calls and current consumer side call blockers have been effective. Ultimately, while the FCC plan may help to reduce robocall scams, it will not create a great world without robocalls most people hope for. There will still be robocalls from politicians and marketers who use a valid phone number.
The FCC’s plan seems to be a step in the right direction without stepping on the rights of those using a valid phone number, but it will be important to watch how scammers adapt to these changes.
Scammers are constantly adapting their methods and this may end up being just a minor speedbump in scamming, but it nonetheless is important to protect those vulnerable people from these types of scams in at least the short term.