back to article After years of dragging its feet, FCC finally starts tackling America's robocall scourge

The FCC is finally taking concrete action on the scourge of robocalls after years of dithering on the issue. In an announcement on Tuesday, America's telecoms watchdog said it had written to cellular network operators asking them to detail the free robocall blocking tools they provide to consumers. It also released two cease- …

  1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    I am not sure if this is possible ...

    I am not sure if this is possible, but what I would like is for the phone providers -- whether landline, mobile, or VoIP -- to provide us an option to automatically block all VoIP numbers that originate outside the country. For instance, if I am in the United States and a VoIP call is made whose source IP is from India, block the call.

    Or, better yet, always block foreign VoIP calls except from countries a person has whitelisted or from numbers a person has whitelisted.

    A possible benefit to doing this might be to force tech support people to be local, instead of outsourced to India.

    1. CrackedNoggin

      Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

      VOIP comes over the internet, and can be rerouted to look like the origin is in the US, which is indeed what it looks like. ATT offers call blocking - but not to monthly subscribers, only to business or home package (+ internet) customers.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

      This isn't feasible and doesn't solve the problem. It's kind of like the people who block IP blocks from cloud providers or various countries--if you can do it, it only blocks them for a few days before they move but it does negatively impact others. In this case, the scammers already appear to be coming from the U.S. because they use companies which are based in the country who in turn don't tell you where they got the line from. If this was prevented, the scammers would find new ways to route onto the U.S. network and lie about it with the assistance of the same kind of companies. Meanwhile, if you ever did get contacted by a call center, likely a callback you requested from some company which outsourced it, the call would be dropped.

      One thing that would make a much larger dent in their operations is a caller ID system which does not allow forged numbers. If they couldn't keep changing their number, they would be easier to block, since phone numbers aren't completely free, but they would also be easier to track. A complaint against a fake number gets automatically discarded today. A complaint against a real trackable number can identify a caller or at the very least the unethical company willing to front for them. That can lead to much faster action.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

        In this case, the scammers already appear to be coming from the U.S

        Yep. In the last 24 hours alone, I've had robocalls that caller ID announced as "Oregon Golf Club", and "AT&T" and therefore waved through.

        In the former case it was actually a robocall promoting Ziply Fiber (unsolicited, and I have no previous relationship with them) - utterly disgusting behavior and they're now off my list-of-people-I'll-do-business-with forever.

        The icon is what I would like to deliver to these asshats. Grrr.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

          I once had a call that listed my name and number on the CID, I wish I'd answered the call.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

            "I once had a call that listed my name and number on the CID, I wish I'd answered the call."

            That was probably YOU calling from the future to give yourself the winning lotto numbers or to perhaps stop annihilation of the human race!

            (Nah, it was just "Microsoft Support")

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

              Science fiction story by Ray Bradbury. Some guy phones his past self... collect (reversed charges). His past self says nope. :-)

          2. cyberdemon Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

            I am getting scam calls from "HMRC" almost every day. Every time it is the same number as my own (mobile) number, but with the last 3 digits randomised. It's an aggressive scam: "criminal action is being taken against you, pay the fine now to avoid going to court"

            The caller ID system both here in the UK, and apparently in the US too, is completely unfit for purpose. But the old system and the people who operate it are too well entrenched to change.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

        "One thing that would make a much larger dent in their operations is a caller ID system which does not allow forged numbers."

        There are arguments against that approach (including the "but battered women's shelters need to have anonymous phone numbers" claim). My answer to the arguments is *I* don't need to know the legit number that called me, but if some scummy spammer or scammer calls me, I want a method to report it that results in the originating number getting passed along to a regulatory organization with some teeth.

        VOIP provides some challenges, but at some point VOIP connects to the PSTN. If the party connecting to the PSTN allows scammers on their connection, take action (fines or, eventually, boot them off!).

        I'm sure there are legit technical and legal hurdles that haven't occurred to me as an outsider. I'm even more sure that inertia by the incumbent telcos is also a big contributing factor.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: inertia by the incumbent telcos is also a big contributing factor

          I think that the inertia of the FCC on this matter was the largest contributing factor. Now that the FCC is helmed by someone who apparently wants to do the job properly, things are likely to move forward a lot faster. And that is a Good Thing (TM).

          The future is much more rosy when the knuckleheads are no longer in charge of things.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: inertia by the incumbent telcos is also a big contributing factor

            It wasn't "inertia"; it was baldfaced regulatory capture. Pai was there to do the industry's bidding and everyone knew it. (Simington is just as bad -- a toady if ever there was one -- but less dangerous since the balance of power has shifted.)

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

          My suggestion for those people requiring anonymous contact is to continue to allow sending no number to caller ID. An unknown number can't be identified and can't be called back. That's better than faking someone else's real number. If scammers use the unknown value and people start ignoring it, that's their choice.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

          How about "All calls need to have ANI information; any call that doesn't have it gets dropped"? Couple that with the ability of the recipient to report a call as spam (assign a *xx number), which automatically charges a $1 fine against the telco where the ANI info originated. You could even forgive the first $5000 in fines; telcos allowing spammers would end up with $1M/day fines regardless.

        4. AVee

          Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

          My previous ISP had a function on their VOIP platform where you could block the number of the last call you received, even when the call was anonymous. Afaik this should be possible for any carrier as the originating number always gets send along with the call, just with a flag indicating it should be anonymous. So a carrier can block the number for you without ever telling you which number they blocked. Faked caller ids are still an issue though, it could lead to some interesting scenarios where you trick people in blocking a number they really don't want to block.

          But specifically because the number is send along right to the last hop you actually could have enforcement against fake caller id's without losing the option to call anonymously.

      3. 42656e4d203239

        Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

        >>"One thing that would make a much larger dent in their operations is a caller ID system which does not allow forged numbers."

        Ain't going to happen in a hurry... its not the carrier's equipment which adds CLID to the call... it's the customer equipment.

        FWIW IIRC CLID was a hack that just worked becasue of the way things were and supporting it needed little to no effort on behalf of the telecos becasue it was all end user mediated.

        Good luck coming up with a internationally acceptable standard that lets the carrier's equipment tell the customer's equipment what is valid to use as a CLID and then enforcing that in every country for every teleco; herding an infinite number of cats is trivial compared to sorting out that can of very wriggly worms!

    3. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

      The very simple. All of these calls are charged for. So the billing agreement must surely specify the rules for incoming CLI. Mandate that inbound VOIP contracts include traceability for CLI.

      Any business that is determined to be illegal and/or undesirable is killed by choking the money supply.

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: I am not sure if this is possible ...

      The solution, IMHO, is for the landline carriers to exert some form of control over VOIP gateways. Particularly those whose call profile indicates a large number of short duration calls.

      You cannot tell me they do not know who these VOIP gateway providers are. They are paying (ah! there's the rub) for trunk groups. The call profiles are known, and I would submit that a robocaller's call profiles are distinctively different from legitimate VOIP gateways.

      So, put some effort into it and these people can be stopped.

  2. CrackedNoggin

    Every day a new beginning.

  3. Powderfinger
    WTF?

    People Still Answer Their Phones?

    Remember the days when you could answer the tellie and have a nice conversation? Those days are gone. I have not answered my phone in years unless the number is in my contacts list. I really only use my phone for internet access and as a mini PC. I use it with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse write documents/spreadsheets and take all my notes on it. I monitor my health stats and activities. I also listen to podcasts and music. Phone calls not so much. In fact, hardly ever. My phone notifications are set to silent at all times. Discord for conversations with friends and family, not my phone.

    1. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: People Still Answer Their Phones?

      The scam calls coming to my phones now outnumber legitimate calls.

      The phone companies probably consider them a separate profit center, and have little incentive to cut them off. The tools they offer are useless in that they still deliver the call, thus still requiring you to check the phone each time.

    2. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: People Still Answer Their Phones?

      I agree, but I’m discombobulated by your use of the term “tellie”. That’s television, surely?

      The phone is the blower, dog-and-bone, rap-rod (h/t Zaphod Beeblebrox for that one), but never “tellie”.

      Or maybe I’m just an old fart and I’m not hip to how the kids talk now?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: People Still Answer Their Phones?

      That approach might work for you and some others, but please don't assume it suits everyone. OK?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It gives the company 48 hours to respond...

    ...and 14 days to fix the problem or face being cut off from the larger phone network.

    R squared: sorry, FCC! Our fault! We shall repent and cease our operations immediately before you cut us off, close our business and do something else!

    (one week later): S squared is born.

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: It gives the company 48 hours to respond...

      R squared: sorry, FCC! Our fault! We shall repent and cease our operations immediately ...

      "... and pay the US$$25.00 fine/call we have been levied as soon as the members of the board round up the global amount you have estimated from their personal accounts.

      The only way to get this behaviour to stop is to take draconian measures.

      The FCC should fine the company doing the robocalls as well as the outfit on whose behalf they were made ie: the end beneficiaries of the scam.

      And don't fine the company: fine the members of the board (all of them) from CEO down.

      Any other action by the autorities is, as has been demonstrated, utterly useless.

      O.

  5. Shadow Systems

    I fuck with their heads...

    Telemarketer calls & tries to sell me something, I intentionally talk very slowly, drag the conversation out as long as possible, & generally try to come across as interested but full of questions. The telemarketer will happily explain it all to me in the hopes of setting the hook & making the sale. Once they start to get annoyed at all the time I'm taking, that's when I tell them I've been doing it intentionally "So the inbound Tomahawk missiles have time to finish zeroing in on your *exact* IP coordinates. Just keep talking, they'll get there soon en- *CLICK* -oh darn, they hung up! MUH Hahahahahahaha"

    I usually don't get called again by that specific telemarketer for a few days while the call staff spends all their time nervously looking out the windows & jumping at anything flying too close.

    They want to call me, I want to fuck with their heads. *Cackle*

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: I fuck with their heads...

      I like messing with M$ support calls... One guy got pissed off and said he could take over my mobile! Still waiting on that one Steve, with a thick Indian accent...

      1. Rob Daglish

        Re: I fuck with their heads...

        I did this one day, and the guy was so hacked off, he hung up, then rang back about 5 minutes later to ask me if I could see a mirror. I said I could, so he said "look into the mirror, you're looking at a monkey".

        Now that may be a deadly insult somewhere, but it certainly isn't here... sparkling repartee, guys. Just you keep doing what you're doing and we'll all be OK.

    2. Adelio Silver badge

      Re: I fuck with their heads...

      They should positivly block ANY company that does more than a reasonable number of calls a day (say 5000) then the company has to prove that they have a valid case for making so many calls and the number they expect to make (on average)

  6. chivo243 Silver badge
    FAIL

    dozens a day

    My folk's landline in the US gets hit with dozens a day, they have a phone that announces the caller, they rarely answer the phone...

    1. cray74

      Re: dozens a day

      My parents' cell phones in the US get hit with several spam calls per day. I've managed to avoid that - one VOIP call center in the Tampa Bay area hits me about once a week. Verizon allows me to block them for free.

  7. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    Well that's what the US is trying to do about it – what's happening in the UK? I get robocalls quite often, both on landline and mobile, and I'm baffled as to (a) why something isn't being done about it and (b) who TF believes a robot telling them their card has been declined for Amazon Prime or that they're under investigation by HMRC‽ Depressingly, because they keep on trying it, I'm guessing that the answer is "at least enough people". Sigh.

    1. edjimf

      Any calls I get on my landline that are from a number I don't know - pick it up and say nothing.

      Genuine callers will say "hello?" into the silence, robocallers will wait about 10 secs for a response and then hang up, and as I understand it will mark my number as non-responsive and not try it again.

    2. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

      Sadly, I have answers.

      (a) No effective action is taken because various lobbying groups (BT?) throw their all into confusing the legislation just enough to make it unworkable.

      And (b), even more sadly, the group who struggle to disbelieve dodgy callers includes my parents who are in their late eighties. It hasn't cost us money yet but there's much heartache as they ask again and again whether this or that call might be legitimate.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    America's telecoms watchdog said it had written to cellular network operators asking them

    Hans Blix: I'm sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace, or else...

    Kim Jong-il: Or erse what?

    Hans Blix: Or else we will be very, very angry with you... And we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are.

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    make telcos responsible

    Terminating telcos get ~1/3 of the call revenue, so they have a vested interest in the problem continuing

    Everytime we've seen them take publicised action it#s been because of telco billing fraud depriving them of revenue

    Making them jointly and severally liable for the robocalls and fraudulent CLID would cleanup the problem very quickly

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: make telcos responsible

      The thing is, people no longer use ptsn for voice calls, and the volume of spam is a very big part of the reason for this.

  10. Caver_Dave Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Not so easy in the UK

    I would have blocking based on CLI, however, Doctors, Hospitals, Police, etc. (i.e. all the people you need to respond to, especially if you have elderly relations) insist on blocking CLI on outgoing calls. Numerous requests to replace a blocked CLI with the main reception number have been met with deaf ears!

    An ex-colleague was actually called by the Police (regarding an ongoing matter, so not out of the blue), but as it was a blocked CLI he didn't answer it., he received a number of similar calls over that afternoon The next day two uniformed officers turned up at his door, asked his wear-abouts at the particular time, asked if he had heard the calls, he answered yes he had heard them, but decided not to answer and they were all for charging him with obstruction and/or wasting Police time! No charges were brought in the long-term, but he has become a recluse as a result (hence ex-colleague).

    Why can't these public bodies just replace a blocked CLI with the main reception number?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not so easy in the UK

      Maybe we need to make it more expensive to place a call? Right now it is essentially free. I believe that this is quite common in parts of Europe these days. Maybe a 25 cent per call after the first 20-50 calls in a day, no matter were the call comes from.

      1. vogon00

        Re: Not so easy in the UK

        The most devious thing I have seen over here recently was when I answered a call at my elderly mother's house on her behalf, from what appeared to be (from the CLI/CallerID) a number known in the UK as a 'local' number (From within your own area code / STD code area). The Asian gentleman on the other end of the line was, of course, calling from British Telecom to tell my mother that BT were about to cease her Internet service.

        Anyway, as an ex-UK-phone-network-insider, I'm not surprised by this robo/bulk calling crap. Back in the day when POTS and ISDN (Basic 2B+D and Primary Rate 30B+D) ruled the roost most Telcos would 'police' the originating number (ON) from an ISDN device (POTS number was 'theirs' anyway), refusing to set up the call if the ON wasn't in a range of numbers previously associated with that specific connection - instant traceability and responsibility. If the end-user abused the system too much, the telco pulled the plug on them..

        Once the UK network went mostly 'digital' (Meaning exchanges linked with C7/SS7), someone innovated and came up with the 'Intelligent Network' layer, who's job it was to clever things with call routing (e.g. punter calls 0800-26556257[*1], IN layer decides to route call to a less-busy call centre or elsewhere if the UK is shut due to night-time)... and policing ONs went out of the window. It also introduced/enabled the 'premium rate' rubbish and ability to fuck around with the presentation number given to the called party, although this was always supposed to be resolvable back to the originating entity.

        Skip forward to now, and so many innovations later (VOIP, Gateways to the PSTN[*2] and Cellular networks, full number portability, easy commercial access to the C7/SS7 network allowing bulk call/text delivery) and the ingress points to the UK telephony network are now legion and IMO un-policeable - without a step-change in attitude, commitment and legislation.

        As long as entity 'X' can make profit from the origination AND termination of bulk calls, robo or otherwise, this crap will continue. I count myself lucky that I live in the UK, as the robo-calling problem isn't as bad here - at least not for my TPS 'Protected' number.

        I don't know what the 'fix' for this would be, although my 'broad strokes' offering would be that any corporate entity was required to deliver calls with a number traceable back to *them*, and where the call originates outside the national border, the incoming number is policed (somehow!). Bottom line is that things are unlikely to change while it's possible to profit from this BS.

        [1] Bonus point if you guess the correct word. Hint:I write a lot of it.

        [2] Soon to be in the company of Monty Python's parrot over here, apparently.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Not so easy in the UK

          "robo-calling problem isn't as bad here - at least not for my TPS 'Protected' number."

          "They" don't care if your number is TPS protected and "They" don't care whose CLID they're forging (the "BT scammers" have been using valid ones belonging to active customers for a while now)

          As the terminating telco gets a cut of the revenue (call termination charges), my argument is that they're jointly and severally liable for the scam. If/when that starts being upheld in court is when telcos will sit up and take the issue seriously. Until then they'll continue to pay lip service to it and only pay attention when they don't get their termination revenue

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Not so easy in the UK

      "Why can't these public bodies just replace a blocked CLI with the main reception number?"

      They can. They're not aware they can do so and their provider doesn't tell them it's possible

      in a lot of cases people are working from home and withholding because of that. This is a good case for SIP forwarding (SECURELY!) but of course nobody thinks of doing it until it's suggested to them as a way of providing an acceptable CLID

      NHS has been suggesting it for a while

      WRT the plod, the CPS would kick their arses quite hard as OFCOM have been mandating public services NOT withhold CLI for more than a decade

  11. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Hopefully the FCC imprisons them

    "I am not sure if this is possible, but what I would like is for the phone providers -- whether landline, mobile, or VoIP -- to provide us an option to automatically block all VoIP numbers that originate outside the country. For instance, if I am in the United States and a VoIP call is made whose source IP is from India, block the call."

    Not helpful. The greasy Indian scammers are based in India (probably) but the massive assholes running the VOIP are almost all Florida-based. I am all for cutting Florida off from the PSTN though.

    "One thing that would make a much larger dent in their operations is a caller ID system which does not allow forged numbers"

    I suggested that a few years ago in the FCC's robocall contest -- if the caller ID does not match the routing info for that number (i.e. it's says it's a local number, but it's coming in from Florida) -- block the call. Cell phones and phone numbers that have been ported from one part of the country to another, the calls already are routed properly, so those can be handled too. As a fallback, if it turns out running these checks on every call is too resource-intensive, then run the check after 5 or 10 calls. The thing that won the contest was one of about 50 submissions for a box that shows caller ID, and lets calls be blocked based on caller ID (useless really, since the robocallers falsely and fraudulently rotate their caller ID, I have gotten some where I the same # is reused months apart, but the 8-10 a day I get from these fucks are all from different numbers.)

    Ironically, the current solution being rolled out is to authenticate the caller ID -- don't know if they saw my suggestion or not. SHAKEN/STIR is using DIAMETER (a successor to RADIUS apparently) to authenticate caller ID. VOIP providers can whine about it if they want, but if they don't implement SHAKEN/STIR they will be cut off from the telephone network.

    The big change now is the FCC has decided they will quit giving companies "warnings", and when they fine these companies thea are actually going to enforce it! FCC of the past was assuming they were dealing with businessmen, not criminal greasy scammer shitheads. So, they would give them a warning, kindly ask them to cut it out, ask them kindly to cut it out again, then levy a fine (after a year or more) -- BUT!! -- they then would let these shitheads self-report their assets, so the FCC would fine someone like $100 million, but since they would falsely and fraudulently claim they had no assets, would let them pay this fine off at like $10 a month or something. And, they have not imprisoned the bad actors in Florida (like Adrian Abramovich; the FCC will put in an injunction saying they must not keep doing what they are doing, but not arrest them for violating the law or the injunction. They will just close an illegal robocaller company and immediately move the same equipment (which the FCC failed to seize, either for being used in a crime, or simply as assets to help pay off that fine) to another illegal robocaller company.

    "Genuine callers will say "hello?" into the silence, robocallers will wait about 10 secs for a response and then hang up, and as I understand it will mark my number as non-responsive and not try it again." Nope! I never say "hello" to it, in an effort to do exactly this. No reduction in illegal robocalls whatsoever. I get TONS of 10 second illegally abandonded robocalls, they don't let up; and the assholes here even dial out faster than the recordings can play, so sometimes the recording is all choppy (just like you'd expect if you have a system that can play like 60 calls trying to play 80).

    Hopefully the FCC can imprison some of these assholes.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Hopefully the FCC imprisons them

      As the FCC is part of the executive branch, not the judicial, it cannot legally imprison anyone. And illegally imprisoning people is the jealously-guarded fiefdom of the Departments of Homeland Security (domestically) and Defense (in foreign climes).

  12. nojava

    Free Caller ID

    Free CID would help. Then I could just block anyone not in my contacts.

    My ISP "Cox" switched my landline off and forced a VOIP line on me., then all the scammers started calling.

    Cox has NoMoRobo but its useless.m but I have "Lenny" answering most of the time.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a captcha ...

    Landline is answered silently by a voicemail that tells you the incoming line is for family, friends and colleagues only. It asks for a passcode which, when entered, will ring the phone properly. The message says that, the passcode will be provided in the next 30 seconds but before then it must be emphasised that using it when not a member of one of those three groups would represent an unauthorized used of a computer telephony system which, in the UK, and possibly your own jurisdiction, is a crime. Then it provides the passcode. By this time the robocallers have given up anyway. I've had only a handful of cheeky bastards misuse the password in 20 years, but it is now so rare for anyone to ring the landline I'm thinking of just disconnecting it, living a ringerless phone for emergency calls.

    1. Keven E

      Re: I have a captcha ...

      "...a ringerless phone for emergency calls."

      Done... and to find the misplaced cell phone.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My CLI device sometimes says it is an International call - so I can understand it may be difficult for BT to block the specific originator. UK based VOIP gateways are also problematic - unless action can be taken against the gateway provider.

    The interesting ones are those that appear to originate in the UK with a probably spoofed UK CLI. It always sounds like someone with an Indian or similar accent. Are the calls really originating from a (traceable) UK landline/mobile - or is this a more devious way of disguising international origins? Can VOIP call supply an overriding CLI through a VOIP gateway?

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