FCC to crack down on robocall spammers' beloved loophole

Once a do-not-spam, always a do-not-spam

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has put forward rules to close a loophole used by robocallers and text-message spammers.

The proposed regulations, if approved, will ban robocallers from harassing citizens when they take over a previously used number. Even if the previous owner of the number was OK with the calls, robo-spammers must stop calling once the number is inherited by someone else, the watchdog reckons.

Carriers must make sure these recycled numbers are treated as a clean slate, according to the proposals, meaning telcos should use technology to block miscreants who continue to spam numbers even after they change ownership.

Robocallers are not allowed to dial up people unless some sort of consent has been given, and forms have to be filled in to be removed from the lists. By robocall, the watchdog means calls from computers that play messages touting shady businesses, loans and such like.

"Unwanted calls and texts are the number one consumer complaint to the FCC," the commission said, adding that it had 215,000 gripes on the issue last year.

"There are thousands of complaints to the FCC every month on both telemarketing and robocalls."

The proposed rules will allow people to opt-out of robocalls verbally over the phone, and also set limits on robocalls made by political organizations, which not held to the same standards as commercial companies. The rules, if approved, will restrict campaign calls to those who have consented to receive them rather than blanketing an entire area with political messages.

"Carriers could offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers," the FCC said. "It would give the go-ahead for carriers to implement market-based solutions that consumers could use to stop unwanted robocalls."

As simple as the FCC makes these rules sound, carriers may not be willing nor be able to simply flick the switch and kill all incoming robocalls by default to recycled numbers. T-Mobile US told The Reg in a statement:

Many of our devices offer those capabilities on the handset itself, although T-Mobile isn't currently able to selectively block incoming calls or texts from individual numbers through the network except for certain Family Allowance functions.

So, while the FCC may set the rules a simple flick of the switch, actually implementing them may take some time. The proposals will be voted on in June 18 by the watchdog's commissioners, and if approved, will come into effect immediately. You're welcome to send in your views. ®

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