Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today joined a bipartisan coalition of 34 Attorneys General in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules to allow telephone service providers to block more illegal robocalls being made to unsuspecting consumers in Rhode Island and across the country.
The formal comment to the FCC explains that scammers using illegal robocalls have found ways to evade a call blocking order entered last year by the FCC, following legal action led by colleague attorneys general. Despite the FCC's order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers in Rhode Island and across the United States. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints – two and a half times more than in 2014. The Rhode Island Office of Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit receives thousands of complaints each year with respect to illegal calls, including scam calls, telemarketing complaints, and robocalls.
Following an initial win for American consumers last year when the FCC granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls, the attorneys general now seek added authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls – including "neighbor spoofing."
"As the annoying and potentially harmful problem of robocalls grows worse, it is clear a collective effort is needed between law enforcement, government agencies and phone service providers to find a solution. I'm encouraged by the promise of new technology that will allow consumers to have greater control in detecting and blocking these types of calls and provide protection to our seniors and other vulnerable populations from illegal scams," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
"Spoofing" allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice. "Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection," the Attorneys General wrote in the formal comment filed with the FCC.
One tactic on the rise is "neighbor spoofing," a technique that allows calls - no matter where they originate - to appear on a consumer's caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.
In the formal comment, the attorneys general expressed support for the new initiative, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls and block them. The added authority sought by the attorneys general will allow service providers to use new technology to detect and block illegal spoofed calls – even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019.
To date, the FCC has not issued a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The Attorneys General anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject.
The added authority which the attorneys general seek from the FCC is not in conflict with Rhode Island's Do Not Call Law, in which consumers sign up to avoid receiving calls from legitimate vendors. The initiative for which the attorneys general seek FCC approval concerns illegal robocalls – which are made to consumers regardless of whether or not they sign up for do-not-call lists.
Attorney General Kilmartin was joined on the comment by the Attorneys General of Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.