FCC/FTC UP THE PRESSURE: New Warning Letter Advises Carriers to Cease Carrying Spam Robocalls—Or Else
Well the telecom world continues to shift from an environment where carriers are expected to faithfully connect every call to one in which they are expected to continuously monitor their network traffic to assure that spammers and scammers aren’t afforded access to the U.S. market.
We’ve written recently on actions taken by the FCC and the FTC to warn gateway carriers of their (new?) responsibilities to keep fraudulent traffic off the U.S. networks. The most high-profile (and feared) aspect of this push is FTC prompted DOJ action against carriers—with one recently being put out of business altogether. Plus state AG’s are now jumping into the mix and demanding that the U.S. telecom traceback group start “naming names” and identifying carriers that aren’t being cooperative in the industry’s effort to thwart robocalls. We recently discussed these developments–and many more–with U.S. Telecom Sr. Vice President Patrick Halley,who helps oversee the industry traceback group’s efforts.
This rapid evolution is picking up speed as the regulators pay particularly close attention to COVID related communications with consumers. Earlier this week I wrote about the FTC zooming in on lead aggregators driving traffic with potentially misleading COVID-content. Well, in their latest warning, delivered today, the FTC and FCC demanded that so-called “gateway carriers” immediately shut down identified “scam” calls or face “serious consequences.”
The warnings came with a message straight from the Chairman of each Commission:
“We expect nothing less from these providers than shutting down this scam robocall traffic,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “These companies can access our nation’s phone networks to provide legitimate services to consumers and businesses, not to facilitate floods of scam robocalls. They need to stop this traffic and not let it back on their networks—or face losing their access to the American phone system.”
“We never tolerate illegal robocallers, but it’s especially abhorrent when scammers exploit pandemic-related anxiety,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “These VoIP providers must stop allowing illegal scam calls to reach consumers.”
The calls identified by the Commissions are:
- Fake COVID-19 Refunds.—The scam robocall says: “We cannot provide services due to COVID-19 but you have been charged $399. Press 1 to claim a refund.” RSCom of Knoxville, Tennessee and Aurora, Ontario, is a gateway provider and is currently allowing these fake COVID-19 related refund scam calls into the country from the United Kingdom.
- Social Security Administration COVID Scam.—The scam robocall says: “This is a call from [the] Social Security Administration; during this difficult time of coronavirus, we have to suspend your SS account.” PTGi Carrier Services of Washington, DC is apparently responsible for this and another coronavirus robocall campaign, reportedly originating in Germany.
- Loan Interest Rate Reduction Scams.—The scam robocall campaigns state: “Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be entitled to no payments on your mortgage, credit card debt or medical bills”; “Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be entitled to no payments on your student loans”; and “Due to the lockdown, we are helping people to pay with 0% interest rates.” Intelepeer of San Mateo, California is facilitating this robocall traffic from overseas.
The letters give these carriers 48 hours to stop this traffic or face unspecified—but sure to be unpleasant—consequences.
Notably, there is no reason to assume that these carriers are necessarily bad actors just because they received a warning letter. We have seen instances in the past where a warning from a Commission might be the first notice the carrier ever received that spam traffic was traversing its network. The proof, ultimately, is in the pudding—it seems carriers that respond quickly to these sorts of warnings and cut off improper traffic are a critical part of the ongoing battle against robocalls and should be lauded (rather than chastised or ostracized) for their efforts.
We’ll keep an eye on this.