FCC combats nuisance robocalls with new measures


My cellphone rings. I look to see who is calling. It’s a local number that I don’t recognize. Curious, I answer.

And an automated message starts.

I’m sure this has happened to you, too.

We’re all getting used to seeing unwanted robocalls come across our phone. Most are easy to spot, as they come from random places. I’ve gotten calls from Norway, Maine; Grand Prairie, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Fremont, California; Phoenix, Arizona; even from the far corners of Indiana that I’ve never visited before.

But now we have a new problem: robocalls from what look like local numbers. And this is becoming a daily occurrence.

They bother Lisa White of Jasper. She explained the frustration in an online comment to The Herald.

“They use local cell phone numbers it seems,” she said, “and when my son has a paper route, I never know if it is a robot or an actual person. What good does it do to be on the no call list if the calls still come through? I block every one of them but the same one calls again from another phone number.

She also receives calls from people who think she has called them. “I get people that call my number and they tell me they had a missed call from me, but I don’t know them and didn’t call them,” she said.

Donna Boutwell of Jasper said that a scammer called her around noon on Thanksgiving Day, when she and her family were about to eat.

“Everyone at the table looked when I asked, ‘Do you have any idea what today is?’” she said via a message to The Herald. “‘It’s Thanksgiving day! My family and friends are sitting at my dinner table and the turkey is now getting cold!’ I looked back towards the table at stunned faces. And hung up!”

Boutwell, who is retired, said that she gets a lot of scam calls on her home phone.

“I do not have caller ID so I let the phone ring three times, then pick up responding with a sullen ‘HELLO!’ Most times the line is dead,” she said. For those calls where a person starts talking, “I just listen to the end of the recording not responding so they don’t think anyone is there,” she said. “If it’s a real person who asks me ‘How is your day going?’ I respond, ‘Miserable since you called!’”

Some of the robocallers are overbearing.

“I received a call, stating he was from publisher clearing house,” Lisa Thompson of Jasper said. “He told me I won $3.5 million dollars and all I had to do was pay $2,500. When I told him I didn’t have the money he became verbally abusive and made very rude comments. I have been contacted by a lot of scammers, but he was unusually crude.”

When asked, some people comment that they use apps to help identify spam calls, like Robokiller, which requires a subscription, and the free Hiya app.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking at more measures to reduce unwanted robocalls and prevent spam text messaging. The FCC adopted on Wednesday a rule to establish a single, comprehensive database designed to reduce the number of calls inadvertently made to reassigned numbers. The database would enable callers to verify, prior to placing a call, whether a number has been permanently disconnected and is therefore eligible for reassignment. Currently, callers may be held liable should they call a reassigned number where the new party did not consent to receiving calls.

“Combatting robocalls is our top consumer protection priority,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “and these proposals are a significant step forward in that effort.”

That will work if callers check the database, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly noted; although he supported the rule, he did not think that scammers will check.

Laura Konsler of Jasper wrote that she gets robocalls almost daily. “Usually they’re from Amazon, well past 7 and 8 p.m., wanting to hire me for $27 per hour,” she said. “I also get an automated call that says I’m going to be arrested by local authorities for a warrant out in my name and I need to call them back to have them handle it. I’ve never been in trouble with the law once in my life.”

The abundance of robocalls almost cost her a real job.

“I also almost missed a legit job opportunity because I didn’t answer a call from an unknown Indianapolis number that kept calling,” she said. “I finally answered out of frustration. Being so used to having local and semi-local numbers calling me and them always being robocalls, I was very hesitant to answer.”

Robocalls and robotexts are limited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The FCC has repeatedly established that text messages are considered a type of call under the law and thus must abide by all restrictions on robocalls to mobile phones. For information on the restrictions on robocalls and robotexts, visit www.fcc.gov/robocalls.

The manipulation of caller ID information, known as spoofing, is limited by the Truth in Caller ID Act. Information about that can be found at www.fcc.gov/spoofing.

The FCC is also trying to deal with spam text messages as well. On Thursday, the commission adopted a rule reiterating that SMS and Multimedia Messaging Services are classified as “information services” under the Communications Act. That gives wireless providers the ability to use filtering technologies to block spam text messages.

“Americans rely on and trust text messaging,” Pai said. “That’s why we need to act to prevent a deluge of spam texts and scam messages.”

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