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Federal Communications Commission Takes Another Step To Try And Stop Robocalls


The Federal Communications Commission is waging a battle against robocalls, and today it moved to ban overseas scam artists who make calls that seem to come from local members. NPR's Brian Naylor joins us now with the details. Welcome to the studio, Brian.


CORNISH: What exactly are these calls that the FCC took issue with?

NAYLOR: So they're the calls that look like they're coming from a number that you might recognize; maybe it's your area code, or maybe it's the same exchange. It seems as though it's coming from someone you might know or from your town, but it isn't; it's someone that's using technology, pretending to be a local call, and it could be coming from literally anywhere. Here's how FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained the problem at today's hearing.


AJIT PAI: In the first half of this year alone, the FCC received more than 35,000 consumer complaints about caller ID spoofing. Whether it is neighborhood spoofing, which makes it look like an incoming call - it's from a local number - or spoofing the number of a company or government agency that consumers know and trust, scammers continue to hide behind spoofed numbers to deceive and defraud American consumers out of money and personal information.

CORNISH: At this point, has the FCC basically made these calls illegal?

NAYLOR: So - right, that's what they did today. Today's action applies to calls coming from international sources, scammers who originate outside the U.S. The FCC had previously banned spoofed calls from within the U.S., but there had been a loophole for outside - overseas spoofers (ph). So that action - this action today closes that loophole. It also applies to fraudulent texts.

CORNISH: But I'm hearing international calls. Does this mean the end of all robocalls?

NAYLOR: If only, right? I mean, unfortunately, it's really hard to track down where these spoofed calls originate from. So it does mean if they are caught, there are now more ways that law enforcement can punish the bad guys. But it's unlikely to mean that the robocall problem has been solved.

CORNISH: Why is the government paying so much attention to robocalls right now?

NAYLOR: Well, you know, it's a really irritating problem, as you know if you've been bothered by one, you've had your life interrupted...

CORNISH: Been bothered by many, yes (laughter).

NAYLOR: ...Dinner interrupted, you know. And often they're threatening. They're going to - they're telling you that your Social Security benefits are about to be halted. So they're not only annoying, they're scamming people out of money, more than $9 billion a year, according to some estimates. So there are a lot of different efforts underway. The FCC approved a regulation in June that will let the carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, use apps and other means to block these calls.

CORNISH: That's the FCC. What about Congress?

NAYLOR: Well, so just this past week, the House approved a bill to fight spam calls by 429-3, which is quite a lopsided margin. But, you know, people argued that more could be done. Here's another FCC commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel.


JESSICA ROSENWORCEL: There is no public process for holding carriers who put this junk on the line accountable; there needs to be one. I think it should start with the FCC naming and shaming the carriers responsible for letting these nuisance calls onto the network.

NAYLOR: So whether Rosenworcel, who is a Democrat on the majority Republican commission, can convince Republicans to go along remains to be seen, but there's a lot of bipartisan support for trying to end this problem.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Brian Naylor. Brian, thank you.

NAYLOR: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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