SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Illegal robocalls are becoming more of an issue, which is why states such as Mississippi are stepping up their investigations and enforcement actions, and are starting to see some success in addressing the issue.
A robocall investigator from the Mississippi Public Service Commission shared with other state commissioners his state’s process to go after illegal robocallers during a morning discussion at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners 2018 Summer Policy Summit.
There are an estimated 30 billion robocalls being made each year, and unwanted calls are the number one consumer complaint to the FCC and to state commissions. Commissioner Chris Nelson, a member of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, said recent reports show that the number of robocalls is up 40 percent this year compared to last year.
“Robocalls are the bane of telecommunications,” Commissioner Nelson said. “I have an itch and a passion to help fix this particular problem. People have probably thrown away their landlines because of this issue more than any other issue. It’s a shame that people think that the only way to get rid of robocalls is to get rid of their telephones.”
Although the FCC and telecom companies are working on some technical solutions, and “I’m cautiously optimistic that these solutions will help the problem,” he said, “in the meantime, there are some ‘warriors’ on the frontlines who are tackling these issues.
Jimmy Taylor, an investigator with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, said that the Mississippi commission is particularly active in investigating and prosecuting illegal robocallers and callers who use caller ID spoofing.
Spoofing of local numbers is one of the biggest problems in the state, Mr. Taylor said. Some of the apps that are being used to combat robocalls are circumvented by spoofing a local number and this “causes a lot of confusion,” he added.
Mr. Taylor, who works for the district represented by Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, said he approaches the issue like a law enforcement officer doing an investigation. The investigation usually starts with complaints from consumers, who can often times provide the commission with a call-back number. “If we have that, then we can take it to the next level,” he said.
“This is really causing problems for a lot of people. If we do nothing, it continues to get worse,” Mr. Taylor said, adding that other state commissions should listen to, and follow up with, consumers about their complaints.
“We’re listening to the complaints, and we’re trying to do what we can to help them,” he said. “If they call you and you put them off, then not only have they had a bad experience with a robocaller, but they’ve also had a bad experience with your commission.”
Parul Desai, deputy chief of the Telecommunications Consumers Division of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said that the FCC is also cracking down on robocallers.
“There is no shortage of complaints about robocallers,” she said. “And there’s no shortage of investigations we can start or targets we can go after.”
The FCC has to deal with some constraints in investigating and prosecuting illegal robocallers. For one, many of the robocalls originate from overseas, and that “inhibits our rules,” Ms. Desai said. And the Commission has to abide by the statutory deadlines contained in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which is one year, and the Truth in Caller ID Act, which is two years.
She added that sometimes carriers don’t keep their call records for the required 18 months and that can cause some issues. In addition, it’s unclear if voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) providers are required to comply with those requirements, and that can also cause a problem.
Mr. Taylor, meanwhile, said that efforts in Mississippi are starting to pay off, and calls in certain sectors, such as security system companies, are decreasing.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we try every day,” Mr. Taylor said. “And we’re going to continue trying. We are going to continue battling these people because we don’t want them to feel comfortable at all. … And if we do find you, we’re going to bring the wrath of the state of Mississippi.” —Carrie DeLeon, firstname.lastname@example.org