The Federal Communications Commission has been locked in a war against robocalls for decades. Now, a Senate subcommittee is saying the agency’s attempts have had little impact on the problem.
“Either the FCC does not have sufficient legal tools to stop these unwanted and illegal calls, or it has not yet determined how to deploy those tools effectively,” Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel for the National Consumer Law Center, said in a testimony before the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. The subcommittee is under the Senate Committee of Commerce, Science, and Transporation.
Senator Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said the FCC needs more power due to the sheer volume of calls — about 1.5 billion to 3 billion scam and likely illegal telemarketing calls — Americans receive every month.
“This is an issue that I’m confident everyone in the room has dealt with firsthand. Robocalls interrupt meetings. Robocalls interrupt sleep. Robocalls interrupt time with friends and family. Robocalls have also eroded trust in our nation’s communications networks,” Luján said in a statement.
Robocalls are a pervasive issue that tricked Americans out of $39 billion in 2022 alone, according to Luján. One of the reasons the scammers are difficult to stop is due to the ever-evolving nature of technology.
The FCC also struggles to collect a majority of fees leveled against the scammers. This calendar year alone, the Commission has already issued four orders imposing more than $500 million in fines against robocallers,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan Egal said in a statement obtained by Ars Technica, who reported the news earlier.
Both Egal and Luján respectively cited the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, as a successful deterrent against spam calls. The TRACED Act was further strengthened by the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs standards — or STIR/SHAKEN.
Egal said Rosenworcel has identified two possible actions Congress can take to bolster the FCC’s efforts against robocalls.
First, Egal said Congress should broaden the definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which hasn’t been updated since 1991.
“This interpretation makes it harder for the Commission to regulate bad actors manipulating technology to reach massive volumes of consumers, particularly with regards to sending unwanted text messages,” Egal said in the statement.
Secondly, Rosenworcel wants Congress to grant the agency authority to collect fines without involving the Department of Justice. According to Egal, the Commission has referred eight robocalling forfeiture orders to the DOJ for collection since 2018, and the DOJ is currently pursuing collection for just two.
The result is that significant sums of ill-gotten gains are potentially left in the pockets of bad actors. With its own authority to collect its fines, the Commission would pursue these cases promptly and aggressively,” Egal said.
How can I keep myself safe from robocalls and scammers?
As Luján said, technology’s constantly changing landscape means cybercriminals’ tactics are also changing. Your phone might include a feature that can detect suspected spam calls — which is a great first line of defense. There are also ways to keep yourself safe from scams by knowing what to look out for.
Increasingly, scammers are targeting cord cutters by putting fake customer service phone numbers online. Cord cutters searching for how to call popular services like Netflix, Fubo, and more are not finding the phone number to the service but a scammer’s number. From there, the scammers try to charge them for customer service or get them to sign up for services they don’t need.
If you want to cancel or make changes to a subscription, make sure you’re getting the information directly from the company’s website. This might seem like a given, but phony websites can look pretty real. Instead of Googling how to cancel the subscription, visit the provider’s website and search for its FAQ. This also goes for finding a company’s customer service number. Scammers can pose as customer service representatives to steal your credit card information.
It’s also beneficial to familiarize yourself with phishing scams. Bad actors will use email or text messages with cleverly worded requests designed to get you to respond with your personal information. These messages often try to convince you that your payment method failed or your account is compromised — an ask you to click a link to fix it. Do not click the link — even if it sounds urgent.
Scammers use manipulation tactics that prey on your emotions, and have gotten increasingly good at it over the years. If you’re uncertain about the status of your account — check your account through the service’s website.
If you think you’ve been targeted by a scam, you can report it to the FCC or file an informal complaint.