FCC Proposes Rule to Crack Down on Robocalls and Caller-ID Spoofing

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would try to protect consumers from receiving calls from scammers and robocalls. The proposal would allow carriers to block calls from being sent to individuals’ phones because, according to the FCC, “that the specter of enforcement action under the TCPA and Truth in Caller ID Act does not deter the worst robocallers, often because such callers operate from outside the United States.”

Carriers would be allowed to block three categories of calls:

  • Invalid numbers
  • Valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider
  • Valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber

A press release announcing the proposed rulemaking cited a statistic from a report issued by an industry “strike force,” that said a test of these rules reduced the number of IRS scam calls by 90% in the third quarter of last year. In establishing the need for further reform, the FCC cited a scam in which more than 10,000 victims have paid $54 million to individuals purporting to be agents of the IRS trying to recover unpaid taxes.

With respect to calls originating from unassigned numbers, the FCC says:

We can readily identify three categories of unassigned numbers. Those categories are: 1) numbers that are invalid under the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), including numbers with unassigned area codes; 2) numbers that have not been allocated by the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA) or the National Number Pool Administrator (PA) to any provider; and 3) numbers that the NANPA or PA has allocated to a provider

Calls originating from invalid numbers should also be easy, claims the FCC, because carriers should have “intimate knowledge” of the North American Number Plan.

Further, because these numbers are not valid, there is no possibility that a subscriber legitimately could be originating calls from such numbers. Nor do we foresee any reasonable possibility that a caller would spoof such a number for any legitimate, lawful purpose; for example, unlike a business spoofing Caller ID on outgoing calls to show its main call-back number, invalid numbers cannot be called back.

The downside to this proposal is that it keeps legitimate calls from being allowed to make it to the individual because it is being blocked by the carrier. The FCC is seeking comment on other, objective measures, that can be used to block robocalls from making it to the phones of individuals. Among the mechanisms to ensure that legitimate calls are not blocked, the FCC is considering the use of a “white list” of callers that provide advanced notice to the FCC. Among the questions put forth by the FCC with regards to a white list are:

  • Should we specify the mechanism or mechanisms to be used or administrative details, such as the type of evidence providers might require of such legitimate callers? If so, what should we require?
  • Should we specify a timeframe within which providers must add a legitimate caller to its white list?
  • Should we require providers to submit their procedures for staff review along with their objective standards?
  • How should white list information be shared by providers?
  • Is there anything the Commission can do to ensure that white list information is shared in a timely fashion such that legitimate callers need not contact each and every provider separately?
  • Is Commission action needed to guard against white lists being accessed or obtained by makers of illegal or fraudulent robocalls?
  • What is the risk that a caller could circumvent efforts to block illegal and fraudulent robocalls by spoofing numbers on the white list?

By Mike Gibb