FCC warns consumers about “scourge” of scam robocalls and caller ID spoofers

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The Federal Communications Commission wants you to know that it is fighting on the side of the average American consumer, and not just devoted to appeasing the likes of Comcast and Verizon, by taking on the existentially crucial issue of scammy phone calls. Sort of. Like, they’re thinking about it.

Today, the FCC announced that it will hold a joint policy forum with the Federal Trade Commission on March 23 on the topic of illegal robocalls and what these agencies, along with “private sector solutions,” can do to stop them. On April 23, they will co-host a “Technology Expo” on the same subject, highlighting “technologies, devices, and applications to minimize or eliminate the illegal robocalls consumers receive.” I assume that’s more of those private sector solutions.

That’s not all! Yesterday, the FCC put out a consumer alert to warn people about “neighbor spoofing” scams, in which evil-doers manipulate caller ID information to make them appear as though they are coming from a local number, thus engendering a certain degree of trust.

Feelings about the current incarnation of the FCC aside, regular people really do get scammed by robocalls and spoofed numbers, and it’s definitely something that the FCC should address. They advise folks to no longer rely on their caller ID to provide accurate information about a call’s geographic origin and to refrain from giving any caller one’s personal information. They also recommend some call-blocking tools and encourage folks to report bad behavior to the agency.

There are no actual solutions offered up in these announcements, only a boast about the $200 million in fines the FCC proposed against telemarketers in 2017 (which isn’t the same as levying those fines) and the implied hope that someone will figure out what to do about all of this, with an unsurprising emphasis on what services private companies might hypothetically offer to combat scam calls.

“Scam robocalls and deceptive spoofing are real threats to American consumers, and they are the number one consumer complaint at the FCC,” said Ajit Pai in the joint FCC/FTC release. “We’re committed to confronting this problem using every tool we have.”

The agencies refer to the problem of scam robocalls as a “scourge,” which feels a little overwrought, given the scale and severity of the crises confronting the country, even just within the context of telecommunications. But there’s no denying that real people are being tricked and victimized by these kinds of scams, so it’s certainly a good thing if the FCC is working on protecting consumers. I just wish they had felt this strongly about the well-being of consumers when net neutrality was still on the table.

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