How to block robocalls and telemarketers

The FCC has made combatting unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing a top consumer protection priority. By proposing and implementing impactful policy initiatives and pursuing strong enforcement actions, the FCC takes action to protect and empower consumers.

A Top Priority

U.S. consumers received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month in 2020, according to private analyses. Unfortunately, advancements in technology make it cheap and easy to make massive numbers of robocalls and to “spoof” caller ID information to hide a caller’s true identity.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel and other FCC staff get these calls too. As she said during one of the Commission’s monthly meetings: “I’m a consumer, too. I receive robocalls at home, in my office, on my landline, on my mobile. I’ve even received multiple robocalls sitting here on this dais. I want it to stop.”

The FCC knows that these calls are a major concern of millions of Americans, and scam calls in particular can result in very real financial losses and serious consumer frustration. The agency is therefore committed to using every tool at our disposal and working closely with private, public, and international partners to combat unlawful robocalls and spoofing.

FCC Action

Chairwoman Rosenworcel has implemented policies and actions to help combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing. The Commission under her leadership has also taken unprecedented enforcement actions to punish those who flout consumer protection laws.

Cease-and-Desist

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau demanded that more, more, more, and more companies facilitating illegal robocall campaigns on their networks immediately cease-and-desist from those activities. The FCC made clear that, should this practice not end immediately, other network operators would be authorized to block traffic from these companies altogether. The companies were required to report to the Commission the concrete steps they implemented to prevent a recurrence of these operations. The FCC continues to monitor all these companies’ activities and, should a recurrence take place, stands ready to authorize the blocking of traffic from any of these duly warned companies.

Major Fines

The FCC has taken aggressive enforcement actions totaling over $450 million in recent years against telemarketers for apparent illegal caller ID spoofing—including so-called neighbor spoofing, where calls appear to be from local callers. These included the largest FCC fine ever – $225 million – against Texas-based health insurance telemarketers for apparently making approximately 1 billion illegally spoofed robocalls, a $120 million fine for illegal “neighbor” spoofing by a Florida-based time-share marketing operation, an $82 million fine against a North Carolina-based health insurance telemarketer, a $37.5 million fine of an Arizona marketer which apparently made millions of spoofed calls that appear to come from consumers. The FCC also proposed a $5 million robocall fine – the largest ever under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. To supplement existing efforts to trace scam calls, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau also works with an industry group to “traceback” the traffic of illegal calls to the originating provider. And the FCC works closely with the Justice Department to collect on the fines it adopts, including a recent lawsuit filed by the Department to collect a $9.9 million FCC fine and obtain an injunction.

Caller ID Authentication

Caller ID authentication is critical for protecting consumers against spoofed robocalls where scammers mask their identity, harass consumers, and seek to defraud vulnerable communities. Caller ID authentication, based on so-called STIR/SHAKEN standards, ensures that voice providers are exchanging accurate information about the source of calls traveling across their networks. On June 30, 2021, the FCC confirmed that the largest voice service providers had implemented these standards in the IP sections of their networks, in accordance with the FCC’s deadline. While some small carriers were afforded an extension of this deadline, Chairwoman Rosenworcel proposed significantly shortening the amount of time afforded to a subset of small voice service providers based on new evidence that they were originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls. This proposal was adopted by the Commission and the agency is seeking comment on it.

Collaboration to Protect Consumers

“Closer coordination within the agency and between federal and state partners can help in addressing this consumer epidemic,” said FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel. To further that goal, she launched a Robocall Response Team, bringing together FCC staff members across six bureaus and offices tasked with coordinating and implementing the agency’s anti-robocall efforts to enforce the law against providers of illegal robocalls, develop new policies to authenticate calls and trace back illegal robocalls, and educate providers and other stakeholders about what they can do to help. She actively sought to renew partnerships between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice, and State Attorneys General to benefit consumers and fight robocall scams by leveraging the knowledge, skills, and jurisdictional reach of cooperating organizations to share critical investigative information and collaborate on cases. The FCC also established and continued important international partnerships. The FCC also joined the TRACED Act-established and Justice Department-led interagency working group to study enforcement efforts.

Call-Blocking Rules

The FCC ruled that phone companies may, as a default, aggressively block unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers. The Commission also made clear that carriers could offer consumers the choice to opt-in to more advanced tools like basing blocking on their contact lists. The FCC also adopted rules allowing phone companies to proactively block calls that appear to be from telephone numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls, without running afoul of the FCC’s call completion policies. To inform the FCC’s annual Call Blocking Report, it asked major phone companies and call blocking tool developers for updated information about their efforts to enable customers to block unwanted calls. The Commission also implemented TRACED Act requirements requiring that certain providers take steps to keep illegal robocalls off their networks and made clear that carriers have a safe harbor to allow them to block illegal robocalls.

Other Tools

The FCC continues to support efforts by phone companies and third-party providers to empower consumers with effective robocall blocking tools. Following Congress’s adoption of the TRACED Act, the FCC took a series of actions to implement the law. The Commission also continues to issue consumer alerts, work with consumer groups, and use social media to raise consumer awareness of best practices to protect themselves (see consumer tips below).

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How to block robocalls and telemarketers

If you’re asking yourself this question right now, chances are you’re waaaay past “robocalls are really annoying.” We get that.

Robocalls and telemarketing calls reached an unbearable level a long time ago. In September 2018 alone, Americans received 5.26 billion of these automated calls. That’s roughly 20 robocalls for each person in the nation.

However, some people get 20 spam calls in a single day, not just 20 in a month. It can feel helpless.

If enough is enough, legal action is one way to get even with harassing telemarketers and phone spammers.

It all starts with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act

When it comes to telephone communications, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is the primary piece of federal legislation protecting consumers.

It was established in 1991 and updated in 2003 and 2012. The act enabled consumers to put themselves on the Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketers also must get written permission from consumers before robocalling them and also provide a way for you to opt out of these calls in the robocall itself.

How to block robocalls and telemarketers

Sounds fair, right? And yet, it doesn’t resemble anything like what most people experience.

Telemarketers are subject to fines and legal action if they violate these rules. Unfortunately, that has not stopped all the abuses, in part because consumers often don’t take action against the violators.

If you are the victim of illegal robocalls or live telemarketer calls, you can and should explore your legal options.

Before you sue, know the difference between “illegal” and “legal” robocalls

“All robocalls should be illegal.”

We hear this a lot. Despite the way we feel about them, the TCPA created some room for businesses to make legal robocalls.

By definition, a robocall is an automated phone call that is made via an autodialer, which is software and/or hardware that dials phone numbers without the help of a human. Under the TCPA, no company can legally make calls using an autodialer unless the consumer has given consent. Robocalls may be pre-recorded, or they may be live calls.

Robocall laws also have a few exceptions for select industries, including political organizations, not-for-profit organizations, those conducting surveys, and bill collectors (within the rules of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act).

So a legal robocall is one that’s dialed by an autodialer to a consumer who has given consent ahead of time and meets the exemption criteria.

So why are we still getting so many damn robocalls?

The simple truth is the majority of robocalls are illegal scam operations. They call from overseas, using spoofing technology to mimic U.S. phone numbers in an attempt to steal money and personal information from unsuspecting victims.

How to block robocalls and telemarketers

That said, there are still plenty of robocalls being made every day by U.S. companies who are willingly violating the rules of the TCPA. This makes them prime candidates for lawsuits from individual consumers and class action lawsuits.

Ready to make TCPA violators pay? Here’s how to sue them

If you receive a robocall or any telemarketing call from a U.S. company that you did not agree to through “express consent,” you can sue and receive compensation.

These calls include robocalls and, in some cases, debt collectors. A lawyer may be able to get between $500 and $1500 for each call that violates the rule. Another option is joining a class action suit against individual companies.

If you’ve been the victim of harassing robocalls, the first step is to retain your phone records. The second step is to decide whether to work with an attorney to try suing in small claims court yourself.

Option 1: Use an attorney.

If you consult with an attorney, choose one who is experienced in dealing with this issue. Some firms specialize in this area of the law, and many will be glad to offer you a free consultation. Your state bar association can guide you toward a reputable attorney.

Option 2: Handle it yourself.

You may also choose to handle the issue yourself. It’s possible to take robocallers to small claims court and receive a financial settlement. The process may vary slightly state to state, but you can go directly your local courthouse and fill out forms to get started.

The small claims court clerk will explain the next steps you need to take. You do not need an attorney in small claims court, but you can use one. In general, your claim cannot exceed $10,000, but that ceiling is usually high enough for a robocall complaint.

Remember, if you’ve ever provided your phone number to a company without checking the fine print, you may have agreed to receive these calls.

While some companies flagrantly violate TCPA rules, others are simply following up on permissions that you gave without realizing it. Anytime you “agree to terms” or accept a company’s privacy policy, you need to know what those terms and policy are.

As a reminder, make sure that you are on the FCC’s Do Not Call Registry. You can list both landlines and cell phones.

Who has succeeded against robocallers?

A massive class action suit against Caribbean Cruise Line, The Berkeley Group, and Vacation Ownership Marketing tours delivered between $56 and $76 million to consumers who received illegal calls in 2011 and 2012.

In another case, a couple received more than a million dollars from Bank of America after receiving approximately 700 loan collection calls in a four-year period. The couple’s legal representative had sent multiple letters asking for the harassment to stop, but they were ignored.

Just a few months ago, a man from St. Petersburg, FL filed a complaint against the debt collector National Recovery Agency, claiming he was robocalled 14 times on his cellular telephone number without his express consent, which violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

There’s another way to get robocall revenge

For those who aren’t inclined to dive into a legal battle but are still eager to get even with spammers, there is another solution; one that hurts their wallets and makes them look like fools.

RoboKiller is the only spam call blocker that gets revenge on robocallers. And we do it through Answer BotsTM.

When a spam call comes in, RoboKiller blocks it and sends the caller to one of our Answer Bots that interact with the telemarketers and the people behind the robocalls.

The result is several minutes of scammers and telemarketer’s time wasted that they could have used to steal your money.

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Imagine being a Suffolk County law enforcement officer who makes markedly less than her county counterparts, yet we are the highest educated [“Don’t compare pay of teachers to cops,” Letters, Nov. 9].

Suffolk County probation officers need a bachelor’s degree to take the Civil Service test. Probation officers are thus usually two to four years older than the youngest of most other officers: police, deputy sheriff and corrections. Yet probation officers are the lowest paid, and nearly 60% are female; female officers are a lower percentage of other departments.

In a 2019 Newsday article, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called the gender pay gap “offensive” and said, “We clearly still need to do more.” Probation officers weren’t even mentioned among law enforcement personnel.

We perform a vital role in the community and should be recognized and compensated for it. We understand each department has its own function. But there is no reason why probation officers should be earning substantially less than other county law enforcement officers.

Why is the law enforcement agency with the highest percentage of female officers, which requires the highest education requirement for hiring, the lowest paid?

— Rosemarie Molinelli, Coram

The writer has been a Suffolk County probation officer for 29 years.

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Robocall law pushes the right buttons

Bravo, Gov. Kathy Hochul, for signing two bills to legislate robocall telemarketers [“Hochul signs bills to take on robocallers,” News, Nov. 9]. The law will get telecommunication companies to screen and block unsolicited robocalls and prohibit fake-number calls, with noncompliant offenders fined.

The “effective immediately” aspect may have been the reason my husband and I received no robocalls from telemarketers the next day. This had been our No. 1 hang-up. Hochul made a good call.

Trump signed the anti-robocall act following its bipartisan support in Congress.

Robocalls: The new FCC crackdown

President Donald Trump has signed a new law aimed at tackling the scourge of illegal robocalls.

The bipartisan legislation expanded the power of the Federal Communications Commission to deter spam calls and reinforced the responsibility of individual phone companies to protect their own consumers.

“With this legislation, phone companies will be required to give all consumers meaningful new protections against these calls and Americans will finally get some relief from the ringing telephone,” Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst with Consumer Reports, told The Associated Press.

However, while consumers may receive fewer spam calls in 2020, they won’t disappear overnight or entirely, she explained.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, increases fines on spam robocallers from $1,500 to as much as $10,000 per illegal call. It also requires phone companies speed up their adaptation of “call authentication technologies” to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before ever reaching consumers, a point Mahoney said is a “big victory.”

“The key is requiring these phone companies to help stop the calls before they reach the consumer and do it at no additional charge,” she told The AP.

While consumers can buy software like Hiya and YouMail to help weed out the billions of robocalls that Americans collectively receive each month on cellphones, this new legislation thrusts the responsibility on service providers to block those calls from ever reaching consumers.

The also requires the Federal Communications Commission and service providers to develop a system which informs customers when they’re receiving a “spoofed” call — when the caller ID is made to look like it’s coming from the same area code, a well-known agency, such as the Internal Revenue Service or company. That system, however, will not work for home phones connected to copper landlines, so the measure calls on the FCC and phone companies to find an alternative for those customers.

Another key takeaway from the new legislation is that it allows the FCC four years to intervene and collect fines after an illegal robocall takes place instead of only one, as with previous legislation. The additional time may prove helpful. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FCC collected only 0.003 percent of the fines it imposed between 2015 and early 2019.

The FCC is also now required do more to try to protect hospitals because robocalls can divert staffers’ attention when they appear to come from inside the hospital.

Beyond robocalls, the law also directs the FCC to create new rules that will help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted texts too.

Faking caller ID numbers and placing automated telemarketing calls to consumers without their written permission is already illegal in the U.S., but enforcing their subsequent fines has come with hurdles. While U.S.-based robocalls are easier to trace, many of the robocalls that Americans receive originate from overseas, and Consumer Reports says those will likely continue without sufficient interruption.

While Mahoney praises the final legislation overall, she told The AP that robocallers may exploit some protection gaps that were lost between the House and Senate versions — such as a mandate to clarify that the consumer give or withdraw consent to telemarketers.

How to block robocalls and telemarketers(Metro Creative Services)

Every day (except Sunday) I get about 20 telemarketing/toll free/name unknown calls. I have listed my number with the Do Not Call registry. I have listed the offending numbers with the Do Not Call registry. Yet the calls persist, and are very annoying. What recourse do I have to stop these annoying calls? They are not businesses with which I have done business, nor are they debt collectors. Most are wanting charitable donations.

The National Do Not Call Registry was created to stop unwanted sales calls only. It’s free to register your home or cell phone number.

If you’ve already added your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry and are still receiving unwanted calls, odds are the calls are from scammers, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The registry is a list that tells telemarketers what numbers not to call. The FTC said it does not and cannot block calls.

The registry also can’t stop calls from scammers who ignore the registry.

One reason people get a lot of unwanted calls is because it’s easy and cheap for scammers to call people anywhere in the world. To get fewer unwanted calls, look into blocking unwanted calls.

There are different call-blocking and call-labeling options for cell phones, traditional landlines and home phones that make calls over the internet, according to the FTC.

You can find a list of some call-blocking and call-labeling apps for cell phones at ctia.org, a website for the U.S. wireless communications industry.

If you’re receiving robocalls — calls that play a recorded message — and the message is selling something, it’s illegal unless the company trying to sell you something received written permission, directly from you, to call you that way. If you haven’t given the company permission, and the robocall isn’t informational — like your cable company confirming an appointment — there’s a good chance it’s a scam.

If you get an illegal robocall, the FTC said to hang up. Don’t press buttons to be taken off a call list or to talk to a live person because it might lead to more unwanted calls. Instead, report it to the FTC online at ftc.gov/robocalls.

If you didn’t lose money and just want to report a call, you can use the streamlined reporting form at DoNotCall.gov. If you’ve lost money to a phone scam, or if you have information about the company or scammer who called you, report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Report the number that received the call, the number that appears on your caller ID — even if you think it might be spoofed or faked — and any number you’re told to call back. Also report the exact date and time of the call, if you can.

The FTC takes the phone numbers that you report and releases them each business day to help telecommunications carriers and other industry partners that are working on call-blocking and call-labeling solutions.

Companies that illegally call numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry or place an illegal robocall can currently be fined up to $43,792 per call.

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En español | After declining in the early months of the pandemic, robocalls have come roaring back, nearly returning to their pre-COVID peak. YouMail, a company that provides call-blocking and call-management services, estimated that Americans received more than 4.9 billion robocalls in March 2021, half of them placed by scammers.

Illegal robocalls include telemarketing spam (automated sales calls from companies you haven’t authorized to contact you) and attempts at outright theft. Prerecorded messages dangle goodies like all-expenses-paid travel or demand payment for nonexistent debts to get you to send money or give up sensitive personal data.

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline: 877-908-3360
  • Report it on AARP’s Scam-Tracking Map

Sign up for Watchdog Alerts for more tips on avoiding scams.

Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their true location, making it appear that they’re calling from a legitimate or local number to raise the odds that you’ll pick up. In a 2019 AARP survey on robocalls, 59 percent of respondents said they are more likely to answer if caller ID shows a number with their area code.

If you do, the robotic voice on the other end might claim to represent a utility, a name-brand company or a government agency. Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service are perennially popular poses, and fraud watchers noted a huge increase in phony Amazon calls as the pandemic drove more people to shop online.

Other robocall fakes might offer you a free cruise, cheap health insurance or a low-interest loan. They might claim you’ve won a lottery, or tell you to press a particular key to learn more or get off a call list.

Whatever the message, don’t engage. Doing so can lead you to a real live scammer, who’ll pressure you to make a purchase or pump you for personal information, like a credit card or Social Security number. Even just pressing a key or answering a question alerts scammers that they’ve hit on a “live” number, and they’ll call it again and again.

It’s important to note that many robocalls are legal. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows them for some informational or noncommercial purposes, such as polling, political campaigning and outreach by nonprofit groups (including AARP). Your dentist’s office can robocall you with an appointment reminder, or an airline with news about a flight change.

But illegal robocalls make up a fast-growing share of phone traffic, making it all the more important to be on guard for automated scams.