Sick of robocalls? Feds told to toughen rules on illegal calls

The top law enforcement officers in more than 40 states are ready to go to war against automatic robo-calling and caller ID “spoofing,” a practice that disguises the origin of incoming phone calls.

More than 40 state attorneys general are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to beef up rules against those practices. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is joining them.

New rules proposed in February would expand existing rules on spoofed caller ID calls to cover companies outside the United States calling American citizens. The proposal would also expand the type of services that existing rules cover.

The FCC has weighed measures to address the problem for years, yet the technique has not only persisted, it has grown.

Americans received almost 18 billion scam robocalls last year and robocalls are reported to be exploding, increasing by 57 percent from 2017 to 2018. According to the FCC, so-called “imposter” scams have cost consumers $488 million just in 2018.

“The state attorneys general encourage the commission to adopt the rules, and also offer our continued support of a proactive, multi-pronged approach to battle the noxious intrusion of illegal robocalls, as well as malicious caller ID spoofing in voice, alternative voice, and text message services,” a letter from the states’ AGs to the FCC said.

Essentially, the officers urging support of legislation known as “Ray Baum’s Act of 2018,” which covers several initiatives, including encouraging development of 5G networks and broadband investment.

“Most people are quick to detect a robocall and know to hang up immediately,” Yost said in a statement. “But these fraudulent calls are a real threat to vulnerable Ohioans who have no reason to doubt the voice on the other end of the line and they’re a pain for all of us. I’m proud to fight for Ohio against this growing nuisance.”

Spoofers use the method in a number of scams and crimes. Earlier this year, readers shared with the Dayton Daily News their accounts of scam attempts. South Vienna resident Cheryl Misch, 63, said she was contacted last year by a caller claiming to work for the Internal Revenue Service.

The caller told her that she and her husband owed more than $500 in unpaid back taxes, and they needed to pay soon — right away, in fact. Otherwise, she and her husband would be arrested, the caller threatened.

John North, president and chief executive of Dayton’s Better Business Bureau, said it’s an area that has triggered plenty of complaints to his office.

“Probably the majority of the calls I get coming in are robocalls,” North said. “I’ve got a list in my phone of callers that I’ve blocked because every time I block them, they change telephone numbers, and it comes in as something else.”

Yost believes the problem needs a federal solution. “We’re drowning in these robocalls,” he said in an interview this week.

One possible remedy is to attack the software that makes the problem possible.

A computerized robocall telephone systems makes many calls all at once, waiting for someone to pick up. That has to go through the telecom companies, the carriers, Yost said. Back when carriers had hard lines, switches would route calls. But today, calls are going the modern equivalent of a switch, which is software.

The best remedy is to cut off robocallers’ access, Yost contends.

The FCC has encouraged the adoption of a new protocol, the so-called “shaken/stir framework” meant to authenticate the identification of callers.

“A bunch of companies are implementing it this year,” Yost noted. “The chair of the FCC (Ajit Pai) has been threatening to make it mandatory through regulation.”

“Whether we do it by regulation or some other incentive, we need this framework,” Yost said.

The framework uses digital certificates to ensure the calling number of a telephone call is secure. The certificate technology enables the called party to verify that the calling number is accurate and has not been spoofed, roughly analogous to the blue check mark Twitter uses to verify the identity of people behind accounts.

As the FCC itself explains the approach: "This means that calls traveling through interconnected phone networks would have their caller ID 'signed' as legitimate by originating carriers and validated by other carriers before reaching consumers."

“I know that we get regular calls about that,” Yost said.

Surprise phone call?

Here are some questions you should ask:

1. Who’s calling and why?

2. What’s the hurry?

3. If it’s free, why am I being asked to pay anything at all?

4. Why do I need to “confirm” my account information — or even give it to you?

5. Do you want more calls like this one? If not, register with the "Do Not Call" registry,

Recognize scams

1. If you’re contacted with a surprise offer for “free” money or “fast” cash, there’s a good chance that you’ve been targeted by a scam artist.

2. If you’re told you “must” act quickly or in a very short time, be wary. Legitimate financial transactions take time, and they should be well understood.

3. Another red flag may be the best: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Use your common sense, and keep that wallet closed.

Source: AARP Foundation

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