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FCC goes after international robocallers and spam texts

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer
Telemarketer robocaller scam calling smartphone with woman holding telephone in house

The FCC is looking to crack down on two forms of annoying phone spam: international robocalls and texts.

The robocall epidemic has resulted in millions of people receiving robocalls from numbers that look like their own, a concept called “neighborhood spoofing,” but people have also been flooded by calls from international numbers.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai proposed the adoption of new rules on Monday that would add another prong to the fight against faking caller ID, otherwise known as “spoofing.”

“Scammers often robocall us from overseas, and when they do, they typically spoof their numbers to try and trick consumers,” Pai said in a press release.

In a press conference with a senior FCC official, the FCC said that the Truth In Caller ID Act prohibited spoofing, but until last year’s passage of the RAY BAUM’s Act, international calls and texts were not included in anti-spoofing laws.

Generally speaking, the official said, federal statutes can’t go beyond the U.S. unless Congress specifically says otherwise, which the RAU BAM’s Act does. Until then, the FCC was not allowed to make a rule to pursue action overseas.

The rule will be voted on at the FCC’s Aug. 1 meeting, and if approved, would give the FCC leeway to crack down, either by seizing assets in the U.S. or working with other countries on a joint effort to target robocalling scammers.

In the past, the FCC has worked with countries like India tracking down scammers working in call centers. The agency says this rule would further these efforts by keeping investigations open.

Though there have been successful examples of transnational cooperation, the FCC has had to drop the pursuit of numerous scammers because of international borders.

The FCC said it got more than 35,000 complaints about caller ID spoofing in the first half of 2019, and the breakdown of total FCC complaints shows the gravity of the issue. It’s clearly a nationwide epidemic.

There has been a rollout – albeit a slow one – of tools consumers can use to manage robocalls. The current FCC strategy revolves around a technology called STIR/SHAKEN, a method of authenticating caller ID that Pai and others are pushing phone companies to adopt by the end of the year. But as industry representatives, FCC officials, and companies’ executives frequently repeat, “there is no silver bullet.”

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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