Attorneys general aim to stop illegal robocalls, spoofing


Mississippi’s attorney general has joined a bipartisan coalition of 34 attorneys general in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules to better block illegal robocalls.

The formal comment to the FCC follows comments previously made by the Mississippi Attorney General to the FCC regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and explains that scammers, using illegal robocalls, have found ways to evade a call blocking order entered last year by the FCC.

The FCC’s 2017 Order granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls. Hood called it a bipartisan victory for American consumers.

Despite the FCC’s Order, Hood says robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers and costly to small businesses in Mississippi and across the United States. He says in 2017 the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints, two and a half times more than in 2014.

The Mississippi Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received nearly 2,000 reports in FY 2018 with respect to scam phone calls and 405 since July 1. The attorneys general now seek broader authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls, including “neighbor spoofing.”

“These calls aren’t just an annoyance. They are a safety concern,” Hood said. “Our office often receives complaints regarding scam calls, many involving someone, especially the elderly, sending money to the scammer on the other end of the phone. The caller’s message is more believable when it is coming from a number the consumer recognizes.”

“Spoofing” allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice.

“Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection,” the attorneys general wrote in the formal comment filed with the FCC.

“Neighbor spoofing” is a technique that allows calls, no matter where they originate, to appear on a consumer’s caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.

In the formal comment, the attorneys general also expressed support for a new initiative, referred to by the acronym Stir / Shaken, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate and certify legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls, even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019.

To date, the FCC has not issued a notice of proposed rule-making concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The attorneys general anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject. The current comments concern illegal robocalls, which are made to consumers regardless of whether or not they sign up for do-not-call lists.

The following states joined Mississippi on the comment: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.

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