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FCC Moves to Stop “One-Ring” Scams

Dec 2, 2020 Law Street

On Monday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it has issued an order clarifying that phone companies can block robocalls that are associated with one-ring scams, thus implementing a portion of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The order comes after the Commission issued a proposed rulemaking in April 2020.

“Today the FCC acts decisively to protect consumers from a particularly pernicious type of robocall: the one-ring scam,” Chairman Ajit Pai said. “In response to a spike in one-ring scam activity, we proactively targeted this problem over a year-and-a-half ago with a consumer advisory and have taken other action to combat this scam. Today’s action is just the latest step to stop illegal calls before they reach consumers’ phones. We are sending bad actors a clear message: We will use all available tools, including those in the TRACED Act, to protect American consumers.”

The FCC noted that during a typical one-ring scam, a consumer receives a robocall, which can often occur late at night, during said robocall, the call disconnects after one ring in order to prompt the consumer to call back. While these calls appear to come from U.S. numbers, these scam calls generally originate from outside of the country. Thus, when consumers call back they will incur toll charges of which the scammer receives a portion. Furthermore, the agency stated that these scams also utilize fake voicemail messages to inform consumers about an allegedly “sick relative” or messages that urge consumers to call what appears to be a U.S. number in order to “schedule a package delivery.”

The FCC stated that it will also continue and expand its efforts, including collaboration with law enforcement and consumer education activities, to stop these types of scams and other robocalling conduct. Monday’s order adds to the FCC’s efforts to “provide phone companies with certainty and safe harbors for blocking unwanted and illegal robocalls,” such as its: 2017 Call Blocking Report and Order, which gave phone companies the authority to block by default calls that seem to come from invalid, unallocated, unused, and numbers on a Do-Not-Originate list; 2019 Call Blocking Declaratory Ruling, which permitted phone companies to automatically enroll new and existing customers in a default call-blocking service if reasonable analytics are used to identify unwanted calls to be blocked; and July 2020 Call Blocking Safe Harbor Report and Order, which incentivized phone companies to block calls by protecting them from liability if they inadvertently blocked wanted calls in certain instances. The FCC has made other initiatives to combat robocalls, such as requiring phone companies to authenticate caller ID to protect consumers from spoofed calls.