Attorney General Josh Shapiro Leads Fight to Stop Illegal Robocalls and Spoofing that Plague Consumers

HARRISBURG — Leading a bipartisan coalition of 34 Attorneys General, Attorney General Josh Shapiro today called on the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules to allow telephone service providers to block more illegal robocalls being made to unsuspecting consumers in Pennsylvania and across the country.

The formal comment to the FCC explains that scammers using illegal robocalls have found ways to evade a call blocking order entered last year by the FCC – following legal action led by Attorney General Shapiro and colleague attorneys general. Despite the FCC’s order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers in Pennsylvania and across the United States. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints – two and a half times more than in 2014. The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection receives thousands of complaints each year with respect to illegal calls, including scam calls, telemarketing complaints, and robocalls.

Following an initial win for Pennsylvania and American consumers last year led by Attorney General Shapiro and the bipartisan coalition, when the FCC granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls, the attorneys general now seek added authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls – including “neighbor spoofing.”

“I’m taking new action with my colleagues to continue the fight to protect Pennsylvanians and Americans from these bothersome and illegal robocall scams, which are used to scam seniors and other vulnerable populations,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “As Attorney General, I take seriously my role to protect consumers from scams of all kinds. The FCC should create new rules to let telephone service providers block more types of illegal robocalls.”

“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.

One tactic on the rise is “neighbor spoofing,” 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.

Last October, Attorney General Shapiro testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging with U.S. Senator Bob Casey. He called on legislators and the FCC to protect Pennsylvania seniors and consumers from illegal robocalls and spoofing used to conceal the caller’s location. A month later, on Nov. 17, 2017, the FCC issued the 2017 Call Blocking Order, which Attorney General Shapiro and a group of 29 other Attorneys General had encouraged the FCC to adopt.

In the formal comment, Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues expressed support for the new initiative, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls and block them. The added authority sought by the attorneys general will allow service providers to use new technology to detect and block illegal 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 rulemaking concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The Attorneys General anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject.

The added authority which the attorneys general seek from the FCC is not in conflict with Pennsylvania’s Do Not Call Law, in which consumers sign up to avoid receiving calls from legitimate vendors. The initiative for which the attorneys general seek FCC approval concerns illegal robocalls – which are made to consumers regardless of whether or not they sign up for do-not-call lists.