If you’ve ever had your dinner interrupted by an annoying robocall sales pitch – and who hasn’t? – this will make you smile: The Federal Communications Commission is proposing a $120 million fine for a Miami man accused of duping customers in an alleged vacation telemarketing scam in 2016. Victims were told that the trip packages or time-shares came from well-known travel companies, authorities say. They didn’t.
That epic fine, the largest proposed in FCC history, is for more than 96 million illegal phone calls made in just three months.
That fine sounds about right to us. We hope other scammers get the message. Ditto for companies that ring cellphones without the owner’s consent. On Thursday, the FCC fined a New Mexico-based robocalling company $2.88 million for robocalls to cellphones without prior consent.
“This … is the latest step we’ve taken to stop the scourge of illegal robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “But it won’t be the last.”
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The FCC is moving to create new rules to crack down on robocalls that torment U.S. consumers. Telemarketers pummeled Americans with about 2.4 billion robocalls a month in 2016. That’s a lot of naps, conversations, novels, meals and episodes of “Flip or Flop” interrupted.
To be clear, many telemarketers play within the rules. Even some robocalls are legal. Also, consumers have long been able to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry to stop unwanted telemarketing calls.
But that only fends off telemarketers who abide by the law. Scammers don’t. These phone spammers may claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service or other trusted institutions. Their rackets can be lucrative: The IRS says telemarketers demanding phony back taxes have reaped more than $54 million from thousands of Americans.
Why are these illegal calls hard to trace and stop? Because many are “spoofed,” meaning the caller ID is fake. It obscures the caller’s true identity. Tracking the source, often overseas, is difficult: Phone calls don’t carry an electronic code similar to those of emails.
Moreover, telecom companies can’t simply block all calls that register no caller ID; some of those are legitimate, possibly from law enforcement or from domestic violence agencies.
The FCC says a telecom industry task force made significant progress this year to combat fraudulent calls and stop them before they ring through to customers’ phones.
Meanwhile, many anti-phone-spam internet sites and apps can help defend your phone. (We’ve had good luck for years with the free services at NoMoRobo.com.) The FCC also recommends that you not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail. If you do mistakenly answer a robocall, don’t engage. Hang up. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.