Commentary

Major Phone Companies Reach Pact With State AGs To Curb Robocalls

The attorneys general of all 50 states and 12 major phone companies yesterday agreed to a set of eight principles aimed at “stopping illegal and unwanted robocalls for the American people.”

“‘Robocalls are a scourge -- at best, annoying, at worst, scamming people out of their hard-earned money,’ said Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, who helped spearhead the coalition,” Dell Cameron writes  for Gizmodo.

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The move amplifies the anti-robocall measures contained in the bipartisan Stopping Bad Robocalls Act that was passed by the House in June. It remains on hold in the Senate.

In yesterday's deal, “AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the other firms agreed to deploy call-blocking technology at the network level and provide other tools, like call labeling, for customers who want more screening options, all free of charge,” Peter Weber reports  for The Week.

The other companies participating in the nationwide agreement are T-Mobile, Comcast, Charter, U.S. Cellular, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, and Windstream. But Cox, Altice, and many small rural telecoms have not signed on, Weber adds.

“It’s the latest step from government and industry to combat the growing problem. Americans get nearly 5 billion automated calls from scammers, telemarketers, debt collectors and others every month. Parts of the agreement echo steps already taken by regulators and Congress,” the AP’s Tali Arbel writes. 

“There’s no timeline, though, for the 12 major phone companies in the pact to fulfill the promises,” Arbel adds.

“Robocalls aren’t always illegal, but many of them do violate laws against fraud or consumer harassment. Officials in government and industry believe preventing illegal calls from getting onto telephone networks in the first place will be more effective in the long run than simply prosecuting robocallers individually in a yearslong game of Whack a Mole,” Ryan Tracy writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“The agreement’s effectiveness could be limited by the fact that it doesn’t yet include internet-based telecom carriers. Industry officials say some of these little-known firms are originating a significant amount of robocall traffic, and authorities are at odds over how to hold those carriers accountable, The Wall Street Journal reported recently,” Tracy adds.

“Robocalls are also a very effective device for illegal conduct,” New Hampshire attorney general Gordon MacDonald said at a news conference at the National Press Club announcing the agreement.

“He added that robocallers prey on unsuspecting people. Once valuable personal and financial information is divulged, those duped individuals are at risk of losing ‘their savings, their identity and their security,’” NPR’s Brakkton Booker writes.

“To get people to answer the phone, MacDonald said about 40% of the scammers resort to a tactic known as the ‘neighbor spoofing technique.’ That's where bilkers mask who they are by placing calls using the same area code and first three digits of their potential victim. Under the plan, service providers will help provide technology, known to industry insiders as SHAKEN/STIR [or STIR/SHAKEN], to combat that practice and aid state attorney generals in locating and prosecuting the fraudulent robocallers,” Booker adds.

“You'll appreciate the thought put into coming up with catchy acronyms after you see what they mean. SHAKEN stands for Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs. STIR is shorthand for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited. But the James Bond jokes are ripe for the making,” writes  Jason Cipriani for CNET.

“While overall robocall fraud complaints have been declining, the Federal Trade Commission, one of the government entities that regulates the telephone industry, says complaints about scams … are surging. In May of this year alone, the FTC says it received 46,000 impostor scam complaints,” Octavio Blanco writes  for Consumer Reports.

“In total, consumers have reported losses of $285.2 million so far this year, with a median loss of $700, according to FTC data. At this point in 2018, consumers had reported losses of $239 million with a median loss of $500,” Blanco adds.

Once upon a time, people tended to be delighted when the landline rang. It might be a call from Grandma, or an invitation to play, or the repairman letting you know your TV’s picture tube had been successfully replaced. Nowadays, most people ignore the rings. One person I know keeps the TV in his study on with the volume muted even when he’s reading a book just so the number of anyone calling his landline will flash on the screen and he can determine whether, against the odds, it’s someone he actually wants to hear from.

1 comment about "Major Phone Companies Reach Pact With State AGs To Curb Robocalls".
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  1. Tony Quart from Bizousoft, August 24, 2019 at 7:07 a.m.

    I used to get 10 calls a day from those spammers. Now I choose to just ignore most of those calls. I never pick up my phone to any unfamiliar numbers. I've read a nice article about suing spammers at https://www.whycall.me/news/consumer-wins-massive-229500-robocall-lawsuit-against-time-warner-cable/. People might find this useful, especially the ones who get many robocalls.

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