The American Prospect: Robocallers Still Have Your Number

July 11, 2022

Robocallers bombarded Americans with over 50 billion robocalls in 2021, with scams and spam calls representing roughly 60 percent of all robocalls. According to a new report from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), many of the most prominent scams are initiated by robocalls. Sixty million Americans lost money to scam calls in 2021, with total losses just under $30 billion. The median loss for most people was $1,800; for consumers over 80 years old, the median loss was $3,000.

The most significant federal rule change is that gateway providers must now respond to traceback requests—which chart the call paths of illegal traffic to their point of origin—within 24 hours. According to EPIC law fellow Chris Frascella, it is a sign that the FCC is “turning up the heat a little bit on gateway providers.”

These companies are also required to register with the Robocall Mitigation Database (RMD), provide plans to combat robocalls, and apply caller ID authentication technology known as STIR/SHAKEN. However, according to the NCLC/EPIC report, registry for the RMD is as simple as “filling out a form and clicking a few boxes”: STIR/SHAKEN “is unlikely to cause a significant decrease in scam robocalls” because at best it only authenticates that a call is not “spoofed” (that is, displaying a false caller ID). Unfortunately, robocallers can also get around these requirements by renting “legitimate” caller IDs from providers passing along their calls.

This decentralized network is vulnerable to bad actors, and telecom providers stand to gain by filling Americans’ phones with garbage calls. Frascella says some of the small telecom providers “police traffic that comes in … and some of them don’t because for them this is like passive income and who cares?”

The NCLC/EPIC researchers recommend that the FCC and the telecom industry take a more proactive approach, such as blocking scam calls as soon as they are discovered; under current rules, providers are only permitted to block calls they suspect are illegal according to certain safe harbor provisions. They also advocate for making tracebacks public, which would allow legitimate providers to avoid doing business with illegal robocallers and watchdogs and journalists to monitor bad actors.

Read the full article here.

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