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The Federal Communications Commission is asking phone carriers for help blocking robocalls made from outside the US and is implementing a congressionally mandated system to trace the origin of illegal robocalls.
The FCC yesterday sent letters to seven US-based voice providers “that accept foreign call traffic and terminate it to US consumers.” Tracebacks conducted by the USTelecom trade group and the FCC found that each of these companies’ services is “being used as a gateway into the United States for many apparently illegal robocalls that originate overseas,” the FCC’s letters to the companies say.
The FCC letters were sent to All Access Telecom, Globex, Piratel, Talkie, Telcast, ThinQ, and Third Base. These are mainly wholesale voice providers rather than companies that sell phone service directly to home or business customers. For example, All Access Telecom says it provides “wholesale VoIP termination services” to phone providers.
An FCC announcement explained:
As the point of entry for this traffic into the US telephone network, these companies are uniquely situated to assist government and industry efforts to combat scam robocalls. The letters encourage the companies to take measures to prevent the flow of apparently illegal traffic originating outside the United States. The letters also request information from the companies about their facilitation of international robocalls.
In the same announcement, the FCC also said that Chairman Ajit Pai is “propos[ing] new rules that would establish a registration process for selecting a consortium to conduct private-led efforts to trace back the origin of suspected unlawful robocalls.” The FCC was required to create this consortium by the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which was approved by Congress in December.
Social Security scam
“Using ‘spoofed’ and falsified numbers, foreign robocallers often pose as American companies, and even the US government, in order to deceive and defraud American consumers,” the letters to carriers said.
One common scam “involved individuals impersonating agents from the Social Security Administration to trick people into divulging personal information or transferring money,” the letters said. Perpetrators of this scam “often use spoofing technology to make the caller ID look like a government number” and generally make the calls from foreign call centers, according to the FCC. “This scam cost consumers more than $19 million in the last year,” the FCC wrote.
The FCC asked the carriers what “technical and procedural processes” they use to “detect or identify call traffic that is likely to be illegal,” such as by “detecting unusual call patterns or large call volumes.” The carriers were also asked what procedures they use “to ensure that the Caller ID information associated with foreign call traffic has not been unlawfully spoofed.”
Other questions asked by the FCC are as follows:
- What percentage of your company’s traffic comes from foreign sources?
- What percentage of your clients are located in a country other than the United States?
- Does [your company] advertise its services in foreign countries?
- Have you taken any actions in the last six months to either terminate or restrict foreign traffic that you suspected to be illegal?
As noted by the FCC letters, the TRACED Act encouraged the FCC “to take appropriate enforcement actions” against carriers that either don’t help “trace back the origin of suspected unlawful robocalls” or who “originate or terminate substantial amounts of unlawful robocalls.” The FCC told the carriers that it “will continue to monitor your cooperation.”
DOJ, FTC also took action
The FCC said in its press release that the letters “are part of a coordinated effort with our partners in the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission.”
As the FCC mentioned, the DOJ last week filed lawsuits against two small voice providers that allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents. Those are the same alleged Social Security scams that the FCC mentioned in its letter to the seven phone providers.
Also last week, the FTC announced that it sent letters to 19 VoIP providers “warning them that ‘assisting and facilitating’ illegal telemarketing or robocalling is against the law.”