Robocalls on the Rise; FCC rethinks Restrictions

John Lister's picture

Robocalls are on the rise according to one company which tries to fight them. Sneaky new tactics and a recent court ruling are both contributing factors.

The rise has been reported by YouMail, which produces apps for smartphones designed to block automated robocalls that aren't made by a human and instead play a recorded message when the recipient picks up.

Based on records collated from its apps, YouMail estimates 3.4 billion such calls were made in April, up from around 2.5 billion in the same period last year. While the nature of the estimate means the figures themselves shouldn't be taken too literally, the significant rise is likely an accurate conclusion.

Bogus Local Area Codes Trick Recipients

The New York Times reports that as well as companies making more calls, they may be finding more ways to persuade people to answer. The companies are spoofing their user identification so that it shows up on caller ID with a bogus area code that just happens to match the area where the recipient lives. That may make them more likely to assume it's an important call even if they don't recognize the number. (Source: nytimes.com)

There's also a problem with the main law that restricts robocalling, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. The Federal Communications Commission sets down the rules for how this law is enforced when it comes to automated calls and updates these rules every so often.

However, in March an appeals court agreed to throw out the last such update, which was made in 2015. The big point of contention is that the law defines an autodialer as any device that can generate a random or sequential list of numbers and then dial them. Using such devices is restricted by the TCPA.

FCC Can't Rely On Hypothetical Breaches

In its 2015 update, the FCC said it interpreted the definition to mean any device that was theoretically capable of acting as an autodialer, even if it would require a software update to do so. That meant virtually any smartphone qualified because it would be possible to add an autodialer app. This allowed the FCC to go after organizations that made robocalls on a phone. (Source: lexology.com)

The court said that interpretation is too wide and that a device should only count as an autodialer if it is actually being used as one. That means the FCC will have to rethink its rules and until then robocallers are under less legal restraint.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you noticed an increase in robocalls? What measures do you take to reduce the problem? Should there be tighter legal restrictions on making unsolicited calls on a large scale?

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Comments

bluecardinal1_5931's picture

Is the volume of these trash calls increasing- oh yes. Huh, there's one now, that says it's from our town, but we know that's false.
We turned off the ringer for the landline, and the peace that's brought is priceless. That phone is for our outbound use only.
For the cellphone, we don't answer a blocked, business, unknown or call that says it's from our town, only those with names we know. So far that's worked very well.
Do Not Call should be made absolute, with any number chosen by the subscriber the only arbiter of which calls are blocked.

Slick's picture

Ask your provider if they offer Nomorobo and activate/get it. [www.nomorobo.com]

Jim's picture

I've used Nomorobo for some time now, and it works pretty well. Few if any false positives. You do still have to hear the phone ring once though, which can get kind of annoying. Better than getting all those robocalls though.

Focused100's picture

The scam artists are now using real cell numbers close to my number. I called some of them back and a real person answered the phone who knew nothing about the scam.

rwells78's picture

Between "Google Local", "your credit card", and timeshares the incoming calls at our business are about 50% robocalls. Given the use of false caller ID, it is impossible to block them. But as mentioned, when they use obviously fake caller ID, such as 123.456.7890 we never answer them. Also, the robocalls are getting more "real" sounding so it is harder to end a call quickly.

Sparkydog's picture

The problem is mainly on our landline. I do not use any special service, other than caller ID, so any blocking app for cellphones are going to work for me.
I am not getting hardly any calls on my cellphone.
I am signed up with the Do Not Call Registry.
IMO, it is harassment, as the landline phone rings every 10-15 minutes, all day.

beach.boui's picture

The increase in the tactic of spoofing the caller's number to look like a local call is a problem. If the local number is added to a block list, there is a real possibility that you could be blocking a legitimate number of someone in your community who may wish to call you in the future, or even someone you know.

A robo caller has spoofed my phone number in the past. Just recently, I called back local number from a call that I missed only to find out that the number is a legit number of someone who lived in my town. As it turned out, I didn't know the person. But, it could just as easily have been the number of a friend or relative.

Using local area codes to spoof robo calls is an effective tactic for which, it seems, there is no equally effective counter measure that doesn't ensure you don't block a good number.

LouisianaJoe's picture

Before the Federal Government created their Do Not Call program, I wrote one for my state. They are both useless now as the caller id's are now software generated.

To block these numbers, you would need to be able to track the IP address of the sender. I do not know how to do that.

I once had a call with my number in the ID. I did not answer it because I do not talk to myself.

Most of these calls have a recorded message. When you answer there is a pause before the recording. I just answer the phone then hang up.

bfunkhouser3_10862's picture

I use True Caller which has worked well. Unfortunately, some calls lately do not show up there, but they can still leave a voice message. Some of them show in my phone call log and I can block them on my Android phone too, but they are still going to voice mail. Sometime right after a voice mail notification I look in both call logs and a call is often listed as blocked, but it still went to my voice mail! I have Verizon and have blocked 2 of the callers there also. It is a real nuisance! And has gotten worse lately.

SteveMann's picture

The Do Not Call list is a joke.

I put NoMoRobo.com on my landlines over a year ago and the annoying robo-calls have dropped to ZERO. I have never missed an important call from a friend, relative or business. If the phone rings twice, that means nomorobo didn't intercept the call.

In fact, I have noticed how little we even use the landlines- makes me want to consider turning them off altogether.

Note, however, political calls are considered "protected speech", and nomorobo won't intercept them.

matt_2058's picture

I don't have a landline, but started getting the calls on my cell about 2 years ago. This is an easy fix for the FCC.

1. Make the Do Not Call list absolute with one exception...you can't dodge bill collectors calling the responsible party. I constantly get calls looking for an extended family member.
2. Make it illegal to fake the origination of the call.
3. Make the 'RoBo' calling and dialing definition easy. Any call originating by a machine without human input specific to that call(auto-dialed cold calling, etc); any call that greets the recipient with a recording(cruise lines, etc).

They could make an exception for appointment reminders and stuff if you specifically agree to receive reminder calls(medical, maintenance appt, etc.). A true option, NOT something buried in a EULA that a consumer has to agree to to receive services.

gar.suitor_4798's picture

Not long ago, I got one from my own phone number. Needless to say, I didn't answer that one. Sounds like the plot from an old "B" horror film...