Robocalls The Never Ending Battle

FILE - In this May 4, 2018, file photo a man talks on the phone in a hallway adorned with the palm tree-printed wallpaper at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. New tools are coming to help fight robocall scams, but don’t expect unwanted calls to disappear. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Americans suffer from a bombardment of robotic telephone calls estimated to be in excess of 50 billion a year. An increasing number come from fake phone numbers and are connected with illegal scams that too often end up bilking unsuspecting people out of their money. A new ruling could bring some relief from these scams and annoying calls.

Telephone service providers have been trying to cope with these nuisances and threats for some time, with little success. Now a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission may make their job easier and leave us a little less harassed.

Robocalls are the biggest cause of customer complaints to the FCC. Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, calling scam robocalls the agency’s “top consumer protection priority,” announced a welcome new ruling June 6. The ruling allows telephone companies to block robocalls and encourages them to use a new authentication technology that can tell if a call is really coming from the number that it claims to be using.

The ruling also encourages phone companies to inform consumers of its actions and give them the ability to opt out, although it is hard to understand why most people would do so. There likely will be problems working out the details. Some customers, for instance, may want regular wake-up calls and other automated services. But gaining protection from the scourge of robocalls is well worth the trouble of figuring it all out.

The new ruling allows customers to choose to block all calls except those from the customer’s approved numbers.

Presently many service providers offer an optional blocking service for a fee. But scam technology has progressed sufficiently to undermine this service. The FCC wants to require all providers to use new anti-spam technology, known as SHAKEN/STIR, by the end of the year. And it has asked for comments on this plan and a “safe harbor” proposal to protect providers from lawsuits if they block legitimate calls in error.

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“We think these actions will help consumers in the near term and the long term to get the peace and the quiet that they deserve,” Commissioner Pai said in a news release. “Now is the time for the telephone companies to take up the baton” and implement the new anti-spam tools and robocall policies.

The way is clear for the big telephone companies to take significant action to help consumers. We urge them to do so quickly.

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