PA AG, Senator Urge FCC to Let Carriers Block Calls with ‘Spoofed’ Numbers

During a hearing today before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said that he was joining Sen. Bob Casey (R., Pa.), the ranking member of the committee, in sending a letter to the FCC urging it “without further delay” to adopt and implement its proposed rules enabling telephone companies to block calls with “spoofed” originating numbers (TR Daily, March 23).

“[T]elephone companies should be able to block calls originating from ‘spoofed’ or invalid numbers, unallocated numbers, and numbers whose owners have requested be blocked. For example, phone providers would be able to block a scammer that is using a telephone number that clearly can’t exist because it hasn’t been assigned. Legitimate businesses do not need to use any of these spoofing methods to contact consumers. Allowing providers to block these calls would stymie scammers without burdening businesses,” AG Shapiro said.

AG Shapiro also urged Congress to “look closely at the effects of permitting debt collectors working on behalf of the IRS to make telephone calls to people from whom they are collecting debt. The IRS has used other means for decades and never felt the need to turn to phone calls. I believe their debt collectors should adhere to the same practices.”

He noted that “we used to be able to tell seniors that if someone was calling claiming to be from the IRS, then it was a scam — period — because the IRS does not call anyone. However, with the IRS’s new private debt collection practices that began in April, it is possible for people to receive legitimate calls seeking to collect on debts to the IRS. This is causing confusion in our communities, and has removed a crucial method of self-defense.”

Kevin Rupy, vice president–law and policy at the U.S. Telecom Association, said that USTelecom “supports the proposed rules and has participated fully in the proceeding. One issue the FCC raises is what protections legitimate callers should have if their calls are blocked due to the inappropriate scoring of their call. That is an important topic both for situations where voice providers block numbers directly, and for blocking services that consumers may opt into in order to block or filter potentially unwanted calls. It is an issue USTelecom and its members, and other parts of the robocall labeling/scoring ecosystem, have been wrestling with for years, and this fall we are hosting a workshop aimed at helping develop ‘best practices’ for the scoring and labelling of calls.”

Among the “next steps” that the Federal Trade Commission intends to take on this issue are encouraging telecom carriers “to be proactive in monitoring for illegal robocalls, blocking illegal calls, and securing the information necessary for prosecutions,” and encouraging “industry-wide coordination to create and deploy VoIP [voice over Internet protocol] standards that incorporate robust authentication capabilities,” according to the testimony of Lois Greisman, associate director of the Division of Marketing Practices in the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.

The FTC will also “work with industry leaders and other experts to further stimulate the development of technological solutions to protect consumers from illegal robocalls,” she said.

Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R., Maine) asked about calls that repeat, “Are you there? Can you hear me?”, which the senator suggested are intended to record the called party saying “yes” for later use in forged authorizations for service and charges.

Ms. Greisman responded, “We’re not seeing an increase in [unauthorized] billing,” and the FTC consequently believes these questions are “an alternative to music or dead air” and “an effort to get people to pick up the phone,” as many people now screen for robocalls.

Chairman Collins and witness Genie Barton, president of the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, traded tales of how they each almost fell for phishing scams in the heat of the moment, despite being aware of the risks as soon as they stopped to think about it calmly. —Lynn Stanton,