|"We’re not going to stop until we get robocallers, spoofers, and scammers off the line." – FCC 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.
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.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel has implemented policies and actions to help combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing. The Commission under her leadership has also taken unprecedented enforcement actions to punish those who flout consumer protection laws.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau demanded more than a dozen voice service providers that have apparently facilitated illegal robocall campaigns on their networks immediately cease-and-desist from those activities. The FCC has been clear: if this practice does not end immediately, other network operators will block traffic from these companies altogether. 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.
The FCC has taken aggressive enforcement actions in recent years against telemarketers for apparent illegal caller ID spoofing and robocalling. 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. The FCC also proposed a $45 million robocall fine – the largest ever under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act – against a company that conducted an apparently illegal robocall campaign to sell health insurance under the pretense that the annual enrollment period had been reopened due to the coronavirus pandemic. The FCC works closely with the Justice Department to collect on the fines it adopts, including a lawsuit filed by the DoJ to collect a $9.9 million FCC fine and obtain an injunction.
Caller ID Authentication (STIR/SHAKEN)
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, provides a common information sharing language between networks to verify caller ID information which can be used by robocall blocking tools, FCC investigators, and by consumers trying to judge if an incoming call is likely legitimate or not. On June 30, 2021, the FCC confirmed that all the largest voice service providers had implemented these standards in the IP sections of their networks, in accordance with the FCC’s deadline. While some small carriers were afforded an extension of this deadline, Chairwoman Rosenworcel shortened the amount of time afforded to a subset of small voice service providers based on evidence that they were originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls. Thus, small voice service providers that are not facilities-based must implement STIR/SHAKEN in the IP portions of their networks no later than June 30, 2022.
Robocall Mitigation Database
The FCC now requires voice service providers to file certifications in the FCC’s new Robocall Mitigation Database to inform the agency of their STIR/SHAKEN implementation status and, in some cases, their robocall mitigation efforts. Hundreds of voice service providers have certified to either full STIR/SHAKEN implementation or full implementation on the IP portions of their networks. Voice service providers certifying to anything short of full STIR/SHAKEN implementation must describe the robocall mitigation steps they are taking to ensure they are not the source of illegal robocalls. Beginning in September 2021, voice service providers must block phone traffic from any providers neither certified to implementation of STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication standards nor filed a detailed robocall mitigation plan with the FCC.
Closing Gateways for International Robocalls
In September 2021, the FCC proposed rules to ensure networks that serve as entry points for foreign-originated phone calls do their part to prevent this traffic from including illegal robocalls. Eliminating illegal robocalls that originate abroad is one of the most vexing challenges the Commission faces because of the difficulty in reaching foreign-based robocallers and the foreign voice service providers that originate their traffic. The FCC is also working with international partners, like its June 2021 MOU with the Australian Communications and Media Authority to work together to develop and coordinate a global approach to addressing unlawful robocalls or robotexts, and the unlawful use of inaccurate caller ID information or “spoofing.”
Collaboration to Protect Consumers
“Closer coordination within the agency and between federal and state partners can help in addressing this consumer epidemic,” said FCC 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 – with whom the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has solidified robocall investigation partnerships with formal MOUs – 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.
As the FCC continues to combat unwanted robocalls, it recognizes that it must adapt to the latest scamming trends—including the rise of robotexts. In 2021 alone, the Commission received over 15,000 consumer complaints about unwanted text messages. Meanwhile, data from other sources reaffirm evidence of the problem. For example, RoboKiller reports 7.4 billion spam texts were sent in March 2021. To help address this problem, Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed a rulemaking that would require mobile wireless providers to block illegal text messaging. She said: “In a world where so many of us rely heavily on texting to stay connected with our friends and family, ensuring the integrity of this communication is vitally important…. It’s time we take steps to confront this latest wave of fraud and identify how mobile carriers can block these automated messages before they have the opportunity to cause any harm.”
- Protecting 911 Call Centers – The FCC also proposed new rules to protect 911 call centers, also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), from unwanted robocalls by requiring voice service providers to block robocalls made to 911 call center telephone numbers listed on a PSAP Do-Not-Call registry.
- Fining the Robocall Sources - 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.
- Robocall Blocking Apps – The FCC continues to support efforts by phone companies and third-party providers to empower consumers with effective robocall blocking tools. The information made available through STIR/SHAKEN standards is now a critical resource for such tools.
- TRACED Act – Following Congress’s adoption of the TRACED Act, the FCC took a series of actions to implement the law.
- Consumer Education and Awareness – 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.