Future Tense

The FCC Approves New Rules to Block Robocalls

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has long been vouching for safeguards to curb robocalls. 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Robocalls, the illegal telemarketing schemes that rely on autodialers to send out prerecorded sales pitches for free cruises and hotel stays, are facing a crackdown. The FCC this week approved regulations that will give phone companies more latitude to block calls that are likely to be scams.

According to the FCC, around 2.4 million unwanted robocalls went out every month in 2016. This led to 5.3 million complaints to the FCC about the calls in the same year. The commission’s previous attempts at curbing this rampant nuisance included fining a New Mexico company $2.88 million and a Florida company $120 million for making illegal calls.

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Though phone companies did also have some screening measures in place before the new rules, like caller ID and “Do Not Call” lists, it was still relatively easy to bypass the restrictions.

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For example, scammers have ways of manipulating what shows up on caller ID, so that the number appears to be local or originating from a reputable organization. And it’s impossible to outlaw autodialers because they do have legitimate functions, such as disseminating information about school closures or prescription refills.

The FCC’s decision on Thursday enables phone companies to block suspicious calls using indicators such as numbers that have unassigned area codes or providers. However, just because the commission grants companies this power doesn’t mean that everyone will now receive extra protections.

Consumers may have to pay extra fees if they want their services to employ such tools. So it could be up to you to decide if you’re willing to dole out extra cash to avoid playing the “Is this a robot or not?” game whenever you answer a sketchy call.

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