FCC Cracks Down On Robocalls

Category: Privacy , Telephony

It was a busy week for the Federal Communications Commission. But the thing that most people will cheer is a set of new “declaratory rulings” clarifying the rights of landline and mobile phone users when it comes to automated calls and texts from marketers. Read on to learn about new tools you can use to fight back against telemarketers…

The FCC is On a Roll

It's not often that we see a government agency actually do something worthwhile with the billions of dollars that we the taxpayers pour into their coffers daily. But last week the FCC did THREE things that should be cheered.

First, the agency proposed a record $100 million fine against AT&T for covert throttling of data speeds and not informing customers of changes to their contracts. Next, the FCC voted to continue the Lifeline program’s subsidy of Internet broadband for low-income households, proposing a $9.25 per month subsidy.

And third, the FCC did something to throttle telemarketers who use automated "robocalling" systems to interrupt your dinner with annoying sales pitches.
FCC Robocall Crackdown

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1991, and it gives consumers control over what calls they want to receive. But marketers have been pushing the boundaries of ambiguities and loopholes in the law. The FCC’s latest declaratory rulings are intended to tighten the reins on robocallers and robotexters.

One example of marketers pushing the limits is the TCPA’s provision that allows companies to call or text anyone with whom they have a “business relationship” for up to 30 days after their last transaction with the customer. Some companies decided that anyone who called asking for their address was obliged to accept phone spam for 30 days. The FCC clarified that consumers have the right to revoke the privilege of calling them at any time.

No More Bending the Rules

Some mobile apps that access a user’s contacts have blithely assumed that the user’s permission to robocall him extends to all of his contacts, too! The FCC put the kibosh on that.

TIP: Google the phone number of an unknown caller. Several websites offer help in identifying phone spammers. For more tips on stopping those annoying phone calls from telemarketers, fake charities and timeshare scammers, see my article Stop Unwanted Phone Calls.

Phone numbers are often reassigned to new customers. Marketers claimed that if the previous “owner” of a reassigned number had opted-in to their robocalls, that consent carried over to the new owner. The FCC now says that only one robocall is permitted after a number is reassigned unless the new owner opts-in for more.

Carriers (AT&T, Verizon, et. al.) have long maintained that they can’t help customers block robocalls because the FCC requires them to transmit all calls. The truth is, blocking calls is not in a carrier’s financial interest. The FCC’s new rulings specifically declare that carriers can block robocalls and robotexts at a customer’s request. (Now we need a rule that says they must!)

All robocalls and robotexts to mobile numbers are always illegal unless the consumer has given the caller prior written consent. Nobody I know has ever mailed a letter to a condo timeshare company saying, “Sure, robocall me!” Carriers should be able (and required) to block such calls en masse, and not require consumers to jump through hoops over every single number they want to block.

Several exceptions to the do-not-call rules remain in effect. Robocalls to landline phones are permitted for political and charity purposes. The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, particularly political speech, means the FCC and even Congress can’t do anything about political robocalls. The exemption for charities is hotly debated, and commercial companies that profit by raising funds for charities continue to take advantage of this loophole. Bill collectors can call your landline unless you tell them in writing that you want them to stop.

Add a Dash of Tech to the Mix

Like malware, spam phone calls are a never-ending and always evolving plague. Minimizing the number of unwanted calls and texts you receive takes as much diligence as avoiding malware. Unfortunately, there is not much of an anti-robocall technology industry to help consumers battle these nuisances.

Google Voice is the best solution I’ve seen. Over a year ago, I forwarded my landline to a free Google Voice number. Now, calls are automatically answered, voicemails are transcribed into text, then emailed to me. I only answer calls from numbers that I know are real people. But the best part is that you can selectively silence or block calls.

When you are logged in to your Google Voice dashboard, all your recent calls are shown in your inbox. You can mark a call as Spam, which funnels all future calls from that number to voicemail, or block certain numbers completely. When a number is blocked, callers get a "not in service" message the next time they call.

That works pretty well for landlines, but really, there should be a “spam” button on every text or voicemail displayed on your smartphone. Are you listening, Android and iOS?

Do you have any clever ways to stop telemarketers and robocalls? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "FCC Cracks Down On Robocalls"

(See all 44 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

Hi Bob,
I enjoy your insights into technical questions. I recently became the owner of a Windows 8.1 phone. It has the ability to block phone numbers just from a pop-up menu in the calls history screen. Very useful.

Posted by:

Donna Smith
23 Jun 2015

Unfortunately forget Comcast helping us consumers with these robo-calls/telemarketers as they state they can NOT help me nor control these calls. I asked for them to trace these calls and they REFUSED, they said the FBI & FCC is on this, yeah like this is really going to help us as well even being on the DNC List, so now when these robo/telemarket calls come thru my landline phone I have FUN at my expense with these broken-speaking English idiots, asking if I have windows and I tell them 'Yes I have been waiting for my windows for over 3 months now and PAID IN FULL so they better send them to me ASAP. They say "No no, windows for your computer" and I rant and rave 'well why the he** do you think I NEED windows as I threw my computer thru my windows breaking them and ordered new windows, paid for them and waiting patiently for them from them. I dont give them a chance to speak and continue to rant about them giving me what I order, I tell them I'm going to sue them, have the ATT General's Office on them as well as the local police where their call is coming from, and even tho these people that dont speak our language very well they sure know our cuss words to say when THEY want to end of the converstation: 'F*** You' and hang up. ROFL I have also used this:" Hello, State Police, Sgt Helms speaking, may I have you name, employee ID # and where your calling from, this call is being traced and monitored" and BAM they hang up immediately..Haha. But it is very annoying as I get 5-10 calls a day and some days I just let the answering machine get them as they ALWAYS hang up when they dont get a Human Voice to speak to. Filed many calls with the FCC and they could care less and NOTHING about our FBI is involved on the FCC's site. Where are MY First Amendment Rights and Freedom of Speech at and allowed to be HEARD? Looks like I am cancelling my landline phone and phooey on any cell phones as they are being spammed as well. Its only going to get worse when our communications companies REFUSE to stand behind us when we pay them millions of $$ just for telephone/cell phone services. The FCC NEEDS to really find these spammers and FINE THEM Heavily or put them in jail. What is our COUNTRY coming to?? BTW, there is the Nomorobo service which is Free (http://www.nomorobo.com) that is supposedly out there to help us consumers, maybe I will try them First before I cut off my phone service once and for all!!

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

No "clever way" to suggest. I have landline only. When the phone rings, I check the CID display. If it's not someone I know, I let the caller (robo or otherwise) talk to the answering machine. If the caller can't/won't leave a message, then that's not a person with whom I wish to speak/deal. Some "clever" caller (spammer?) has used my own name & phone number. How the heck can I call myself while I'm using the phone? Automatic ID that it's a spammer. As always, thanks for your information.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

CPR call blocker V102: I've been using it for nearly two years on my landline. I currently have about 200 spam numbers blocked. I like it...

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

When a telemarketer calls me I ask if they will accept goats as payment. If they refuse, I ask if they will accept sheep or chickens. If they still refuse, I ask if they will accept my ex wife.
They usually hang up before I can get to my ex :-(

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
23 Jun 2015

Thanks Bob, for the timely and much needed
article on controling telemarketer's.

Posted by:

Gordon Peterson
23 Jun 2015

I gave up on the idea of using a private "blocked caller numbers" device once I found out that NoMoRobo blocks something approaching two MILLION known bogus caller IDs. That's FAR more than I'd ever be able to code in myself. What's more, I'm happy to know that I when I report a previously unknown robocaller, once they verify and add it to their list, it will block that number for ALL NoMoRobo customers. :-)

But I *really* think that scofflaws who thumb their noses at the Do-Not-Call lists and other consumer protections ought to be arrested and spend time in PRISON!!

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

Bob; You seem to ignore the growing number of Windows phone users. Love my cheap Lumia! Haven't hooked up to At&t YET. Using wifi. But my flip-Tracfone is tied to Google Voice. It receives spam texts. Can't stop them. My girl friend's land line can block calls using Voice. I send a nasty cease and desist text to the spammer then block the caller I sent the text to. Of course not much can be done about bogus numbers displayed on caller ID. Good article, Bob.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Windows Phone is about 2.5% of the user base now. It remains to be seen if that platform will grow to be significant, in terms of market share.

Posted by:

Snake Dancer
23 Jun 2015

Could be that I just have too much time on my hands, but I always like to press trough to the live person right away, so we may begin the game..

My most favorite, I always rush to answer, is when my caller ID shows that it is me calling myself. Because I know I am most likely in for a quite amusing conversation, indeed!!

...and speaking of those: "Window's 'Techs'
I must confess I have been very cruel with these third world "Window's 'Techs' who were calling one behind another for a few days, for the quite selfless purpose of showing me all the 'bugs' that had managed to find way through their 'Window' and into my computer. And me growing more befuddled of mind, yet increasingly more surly and disparaging of their efforts to instruct in what should be simple sequences of key-push combinations on my K-board. Yet all I seemed able to manage was more and more hurtful comments concerning their place of origin, lack of language finesse and general projection of an inherent "Backwardness' in most any comparison to an advanced and civilized position on the Globe.

Naturally, during another long wait for my quite slow computer to warm up an load, because I had somehow managed to shut it down again, instead of the expected results they had anticipated from all my key maneuvering via their patient instructions, I would finally tell them I understood how their birth into the abject squalor of such a putrid nation as theirs had caused their pure hopelessness and a miserableness of mind to rob them of any chance for having a single shred of Human decency remaining within them, and this was why they tried to take from others instead of finding their own in an honorable way.

BUT they were STILL trying to prod their goat up the hill from the wrong end if they thought I would ever let them have control of my computer.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2015

Just contacted Verizon re robocalls. The agent gave me the FCC number to call for robocalls: 1-888-225-5322; for unlawful calls: 1-800-257-2969. She also told me that I can subscribe, for a fee with Verizon to block anonymous re-calls: 700 and 900 numbers.

She also informed me that Verizon is working on the problem.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2015

I've found lately that if I tell the caller to "Please put me on your DO NOT CALL LIST and DO NOT CALL ME AnY MORE" and immediately hang up, that the calls will stop. I wasn't sure it would work, but I hardly ever get spam or robo calls any more. Never never argue with or harangue a caller. It does no good whatever, because they want you to keep talking. Tell them to stop calling and HANG UP. Don't play games with them.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2015

CVS, the nations' largest pharmacy chain and my employer, has for years construed and used the private information legally necessary to fill your prescription (name,phone#,address,email,etc) as PERMITION for robocalls,robotexts, and personal "outreach compliance" contacts to promote profitable drugs, merchandise, and services like flu shots. Your drugstore is the boiler-room marketeer YOU asked for when you bought prescription drugs at CVS. Feel the the loving care because your health is the greatest thing in life.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2015

U-VERSE VOIP lets you block 20 numbers, We had so many robocalls we would add them to the list. Problem is they keep switching the phone numbers that they call from, so the list of 20 fills up fast and no more room to block more robocalls.

U-VERSE VOIP also lets you white-list 20 numbers (instead of blocking 20 numbers) so we added all of our close friends, family, etc to our white-list and valla! SILENCE IS GOLDEN! Now, if our phone rings, we know it is someone that we know and care about! (Yes we all have personal cellphones of course, as 20 numbers on a whitelist would not do for all of your calls..and our cellphone don't seem to get many robocalls, they just get lousy reception in our home).

Posted by:

24 Jun 2015

My husband and I don't have a landline, as we have found our cell phones to be adequate for our calling needs. We both, however, have had robocalls on our cells. Using the You-Mail service and app has been helpful. I can "ditch" a spam caller, and that caller will simply get an "out of service" message next time s/he calls. The call will not come through to my phone, nor will I receive any sort of messages associated with it. The call will simply be "ditched." Although spam callers often change their phone numbers or spoof them, I have found that using this tact has reduced the robocalls to nearly none. I can go months without receiving one of these annoying calls. I am glad to see that the FCC is further addressing the issue. We'll see how it goes. Spammers and scammers typically seem to find loopholes.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2015

I put our landline and cell phones on a do not call list here in Canada about 10 years ago and it worked really well. We just changed numbers and all of a sudden the calls have restarted. Time to get this number on the list.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2015

I know that the calling centers employ people, people with feelings who must need the job, therefore I listen politely tell them I am not interested and ask that my number be removed from their lists. Sometimes I will even strike up a short conversation by asking where in the world they are calling from. I do not get very many robocalls anymore.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2015

I know that the calling centers employ people, people with feelings who must need the job, therefore I listen politely tell them I am not interested and ask that my number be removed from their lists. Sometimes I will even strike up a short conversation by asking where in the world they are calling from. I do not get very many robocalls anymore.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2015

It is my opinion that robo callers should be ignored not engaged for "revenge" baiting.

Check out Internet Scambusters Newsletter #654 and you'll read that even a cop who engaged these folk said it became dangerous.

Posted by:

27 Jun 2015

Try Nomorobo. My great friend came up with a concept and implemented it. FCC ruling is due to his push to change the whole concept. We got comments from his users and printed almost 200,000 pages and went to FCC and delivered it to them. Whether the outcome is due to all the comments that he's collected is anyone's guess, but the fact that changes are coming is a great course of action.

Posted by:

Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries
28 Jun 2015

I've used Nomorobo for nearly two years.

It does the job perfectly, and I wouldn't be without it.

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