Ring, ring! Verizon and Consumer Action partner to combat robocalls

Consumer Action partnered with Verizon to host a briefing on combatting the robocalls

Published: Saturday, October 05, 2019

In September, Consumer Action partnered with Verizon to host a briefing on combatting the relentless robocalls plaguing Americans—47 billion robocalls were made last year alone! (Robocalls are automated telephone calls that deliver prerecorded messages to consumers’ landline or cell phones.)

CTIA, an association representing the wireless communications industry, donated space for the event in its airy, modern downtown Washington, D.C., offices. The briefing was geared toward community-based organizations who work with low-income and vulnerable consumers (including immigrants and families with limited English proficiency).

Consumer Action’s Ruth Susswein and Verizon General Counsel Chris Oatway presented at the lunchtime event. Susswein kicked off the presentation by pointing out that, unless a consumer has explicitly consented to the calls, robocalls are generally prohibited under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). While some robocalls may be desirable (e.g., phone calls from your child’s school announcing it is closed due to snow), over half are scams. Many calls are seeking to collect on debts—including from consumers who don’t owe any money!

Susswein went on to outline ways Congress is fighting back against robocalls, including:

  • The TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act, which would require call authentication, extend the time for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act against robocallers, and increase FCC fines to $10,000 per call;
  • The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which would (among other things) also require call authentication (by carriers) at no charge to consumers; and
  • The RoboCOP Act, which would require free call blocking, verify Caller ID, and allow the government to better enforce the Do Not Call Act and enact tougher penalties on robocallers who violate the law (including issuing prison time).

Susswein also detailed how “STIR/SHAKEN” caller ID/verification technology will keep more “spoofed calls” from reaching consumers. Spoofed calls look like they’re originating from a legitimate number, but they aren’t. (It was noted that Verizon began deploying the technology, recommended by the FCC, in March).

Finally, Susswein outlined the many ways consumers can block robocalls, including through call blocking apps like Nomorobo and by using blocking and alerts enabled by carriers for their customers. Susswein pointed out that CTIA’s website is a valuable resource for more information on blocking robocalls, including what steps each of the major wireless carriers is taking to prevent/address the calls.

“Do not pick up the phone!” remains the number one recommendation when it comes to robocalls, said Susswein, who recommended consumers keep their phones on “Do Not Disturb” mode and only answer or call back numbers they recognize, or those that leave a legitimate voicemail. She also told attendees to advise their clients to report robocalls to the FCC and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to join the National Do Not Call Registry.

Oatway spoke about the complex route a robocall (particularly one that is spoofed) has to travel, from the point the call is made (where the call should be stopped immediately, but often still slips through) to network-based blocking services and on to the wireless carriers (who offer call-blocking/filtering tools as well), before that call can reach a customer.

Oatway also spoke on how the telecomm industry can partner together to help fight the calls; use technology through laws like STIR/SHAKEN to filter calls; and use traceback technology and partnerships with apps like YouMail (which has created an accessible, public database of robocall numbers, which it also helps consumers block) and law enforcement to identify the sources of illegal calls.

“Consumer Action is grateful to Verizon for making this robocall briefing possible, particularly at this time in history when consumers are receiving more of these dangerous calls than ever before, and many are losing hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars per call,” said Ken McEldowney, Consumer Action’s executive director.

The event came on the heels of the release of Consumer Action’s latest edition of its Consumer Action News quarterly newsletter, titled The Robocall Scourge. The newsletter gives readers in-depth information on robocalls, including a wide variety of tools to combat the harassment.

 

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