|"We’re not going to stop until we get robocallers, spoofers, and scammers off the line." – FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel|
The FCC has made combatting unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing a top consumer protection priority. By proposing and implementing impactful policy initiatives and pursuing strong enforcement actions, the FCC takes action to protect and empower consumers.
A Top Priority
U.S. consumers received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month in 2020, according to private analyses. Unfortunately, advancements in technology make it cheap and easy to make massive numbers of robocalls and to "spoof" caller ID information to hide a caller's true identity.
Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and other FCC staff get these calls too. As she said during one of the Commission’s monthly meetings: “I’m a consumer, too. I receive robocalls at home, in my office, on my landline, on my mobile. I’ve even received multiple robocalls sitting here on this dais. I want it to stop.”
The FCC knows that these calls are a major concern of millions of Americans, and scam calls in particular can result in very real financial losses and serious consumer frustration. The agency is therefore committed to using every tool at our disposal and working closely with private, public, and international partners to combat unlawful robocalls and spoofing.
Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel has implemented policies and actions to help combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing. The Commission under his her leadership has also taken unprecedented enforcement actions to punish those who flout consumer protection laws.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau demanded that companies facilitating illegal robocall campaigns on their networks immediately cease-and-desist from those activities. The FCC made clear that, should this practice not end immediately, other network operators would be authorized to block traffic from these companies altogether. The companies were required to report to the Commission the concrete steps they implemented to prevent a recurrence of these operations. The FCC continues to monitor all these companies’ activities and, should a recurrence take place, stands ready to authorize the blocking of traffic from any of these duly warned companies.
Major Fines Against Spoofers
The FCC has taken aggressive enforcement actions totaling over $450 million in recent years against telemarketers for apparent illegal caller ID spoofing—including so-called neighbor spoofing, where calls appear to be from local callers. These included the largest FCC fine ever – $225 million – against Texas-based health insurance telemarketers for apparently making approximately 1 billion illegally spoofed robocalls, a $120 million fine for illegal “neighbor” spoofing by a Florida-based time-share marketing operation , an $82 million fine against a North Carolina-based health insurance telemarketer, a $37.5 million fine of an Arizona marketer which apparently made millions of spoofed calls that appear to come from consumers. To supplement existing efforts to trace scam calls, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau also works with an industry group to "traceback" the traffic of illegal calls to the originating provider.
Caller ID Authentication
Caller ID authentication is critical for protecting consumers against spoofed robocalls where scammers mask their identity, harass consumers, and seek to defraud vulnerable communities. Caller ID authentication, based on so-called STIR/SHAKEN standards, will ensure that voice providers are exchanging accurate information about the source of calls traveling across their networks. The FCC has mandated that most large voice service providers implement these standards in the IP sections of their networks by July 2021. While some small carriers were afforded an extension of this deadline, Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed significantly shortening the amount of time afforded to a subset of small voice service providers based on new evidence that they were originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls. This proposal was adopted by the Commission and the agency is seeking comment on it.
Collaboration to Protect Consumers
“Closer coordination within the agency and between federal and state partners can help in addressing this consumer epidemic,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel. To further that goal, she launched a Robocall Response Team, bringing together FCC staff members across six bureaus and offices tasked with coordinating and implementing the agency’s anti-robocall efforts to enforce the law against providers of illegal robocalls, develop new policies to authenticate calls and trace back illegal robocalls, and educate providers and other stakeholders about what they can do to help. She actively sought to renew partnerships between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, and State Attorneys General to benefit consumers and fight robocall scams by leveraging the knowledge, skills, and jurisdictional reach of cooperating organizations to share critical investigative information and collaborate on cases. The FCC also established and continued important international partnerships. The FCC also joined the TRACED Act-established and Justice Department-led interagency working group to study enforcement efforts.
The FCC ruled that phone companies may, as a default, aggressively block unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers. The Commission also made clear that carriers could offer consumers the choice to opt-in to more advanced tools like basing blocking on their contact lists. The FCC also adopted rules allowing phone companies to proactively block calls that appear to be from telephone numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls, without running afoul of the FCC's call completion policies. To inform the FCC’s annual Call Blocking Report, it asked major phone companies and call blocking tool developers for updated information about their efforts to enable customers to block unwanted calls. The Commission also implemented TRACED Act requirements requiring that certain providers take steps to keep illegal robocalls off their networks and made clear that carriers have a safe harbor to allow them to block illegal robocalls.
The FCC continues to support efforts by phone companies and third-party providers to empower consumers with effective robocall blocking tools. Following Congress’s adoption of the TRACED Act, the FCC took a series of actions to implement the law. The Commission also continues to issue consumer alerts, work with consumer groups, and use social media to raise consumer awareness of best practices to protect themselves (see consumer tips below).
- Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
- If the caller claims to be from a legitimate company or organization, hang up and call them back using a valid number found on their website or on your latest bill if you do business with them.
- If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to press a button to stop receiving calls, or asks you to say "yes" in response to a question, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, live respondents, or to use your "yes" to apply unauthorized charges on your bill.
- Be Aware: Caller ID showing a "local" number no longer means it is necessarily a local caller.
- If you answer and the caller asks for payment using a gift card, it's likely a scam. Legitimate organizations like law enforcement will not ask for payment with a gift card.
- If you receive a scam call, file a complaint with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center by selecting the "phone" option and selecting "unwanted calls." The data we collect helps us track trends and supports our enforcement investigations.
- If you have lost money because of a scam call, contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
- Ask your phone company if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage them to offer one. You can also visit the FCC's website for more information about illegal robocalls and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
- Consider registering your telephone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. Lawful telemarketers use this list to avoid calling consumers on the list.