FCC passes new rules against “spoof” robocalls

Author: CBS News and Allison Gormly, WINK News
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

There’s a big new push to crack down on annoying robocalls from overseas, calls that may be using your own number. The Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules that won’t stop the calls, but will allow the FCC to go after perpetrators making scam calls and texts from overseas.

“You feel so helpless because you have no control over where your phone number is going,” Beverly Figueroa said.

Foreign scammers hijacked Figueroa’s cell number through a technique called “spoofing” that made it appear as if she was calling countless potential victims. Hundreds of those potential victims called angrily called Figueroa until she changed her number.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission made it illegal for foreign callers to spoof a U.S. number, with the hope it will prompt phone companies to block more calls and texts and give law enforcement new tools to go after scammers.

“We’re confident that the FCC, exercising the authority that we have, will be able to stop some of these problems we have before they materialize,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Robocalls are the number one complaint that comes to the FCC. In June, the calls flooded phones at a rate of nearly 1,700 a second, 1.8 Billion of them from scammers.

But CNET’s Roger Cheng says this is far from the end of robocalls.

“The additional enforcement powers can only help, but that said, these scammers, these robocall folks, are smart people,” Cheng said. “They have been able to continually outwit and really advance and upgrade their game.”

A phone scam cost Elfriede and Mike Flavin more than $80,000. A caller posing as a lawyer with a Tennessee number convinced the couple in their late 70s their grandson had been arrested and if they sent cash the charges would disappear.

“This is an evil, evil scam that preys upon the emotional connection that grandparents have for their grandchildren,” the Flavins’ daughter, Erika, said. “And it’s just it’s absolutely horrible.”

Once someone falls for one of these phone scams there’s rarely anything that can be done to recover the money.

The FCC has told phone companies they need to adopt new technology that can determine if a call is legit by the end of the year, but for now those scam calls will keep rolling in.

Robocall statistics in Florida

The number of consumer complaints received in years 2016 through 2019 are as follows: 

  • 2016: 17,343
  • 2017: 19,693
  • 2018: 23,091
  • 2019 to date: 6,933 

Year-by-year case details from 2016 through 2019

  • 2016: 16 enforcement cases assessing $435,000 in fines. $49,000 in fines were collected. Outstanding fines are sent to either our legal department for further action or to collections.
  • 2017: 29 enforcement cases assessing $224,000 in fines. $132,000 collected
  • 2018: 16 enforcement cases assessing $347,500 in fines. $56,000 collected
  • 2019: 13 enforcement cases assessing $855,500 in fines to date. $14,500 collected so far

Enforcement cases against businesses accused of making robocalls involve claiming violations and issuing fines. Unpaid fines rollover into the following year if a business doesn’t pay up after being found guilty. Fine amounts for these cases increased in 2019

Businesses being indicated for violations may claim spoofing, and there is an appeal process for those businesses who wish to argue against a violation claim against it. Per Florida Statutes Chapter 120, allowing the business the opportunity to request an informal hearing (in which the business is not disputing the facts of the case) or to request a formal hearing (in which the business is disputing the facts of the case).

MORE: FTC, Law Enforcement Partners Announce New Crackdown on Illegal Robocalls

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