In an effort to end the terrifying epidemic of robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shut down four separate operations that were responsible in bombarding American households and consumers with billions of unwanted and illegal robocalls.
The companies affected by FTC’s heightened crack down on illegal call spams and autodialing have agreed to settle charges that violated the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TST), including its Do Not Call (DNC) provisions. These corporations were responsible for pitching auto warranties, debt-relief services, home security systems, fake charities, and Google search results services.
In compliance to the court orders sent down last week, the FTC said that the said companies are now banned from robocalling and other telemarketing activities, including those using an auto dialer. They should also pay a significant grant amount that reaches up to $5.5 million.
One of the defendants in the case provided the software platform that enabled it to sent unwanted robocalls to billions of consumers through the duration of its existence. The FTC also charged another company whose operation includes calling millions of American under the pretense of several nonexistent charities and asking for donations to benefit veterans.
FTC and FCC are bad at fining robocallers
While the FTC claims that “fighting unwanted calls remains one of their highest priorities,” a recent report reveals that the agency along with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has done a lousy job at collecting fines they issued to illegal robocallers.
A recent report made by Wall Street Journal, through an investigation, revealed that while the FCC has issued $208.4 million in fines against robocallers and auto dialers since 2015, less than 1% of the said value has been collected; an indication of FCC’s poor implementation of the regulations that are in place against robocallers.
The said amount in forfeiture orders includes a $120 million penalty issued on May 2018 against a robocaller that was accused of placing 96 million robocalls in three months to persuade and trick people into buying vacation packages.
According to the report, only $6,790 of the total 200-million worth of fines was collected by the agency. On their defense, FCC said that the agency lacks the authority to enforce the forfeiture orders it issued and has passed all unpaid penalties for the Justice Department to act upon. It was also revealed that the FCC only punished small time robocallers and spoofers, which means that they are at times unable to pay the full penalties.
The Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, was proud of collecting 8% of the fines the agency has issued in the last 15 years. Of the $1.5 billion worth of penalties since 2004, the agency, tasked in regulating trade and commerce, was only able to collect $121 million.
“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the report wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the report said.
Telecom companies vow to end robocalls
With the apparent inaction from both the FCC and the FTC, many telecommunications giants are starting to take it into their own hands to end the robocall crisis in the country.
Major telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are coming together in a move that would impact robocalls in the country. Both companies, through a joint press release, announced a cross-network authentication system to verify calls between separate providers. The companies will tap into an authentication technology called SHAKEN/STIR that will authenticate if the phone number on a user’s caller ID is the phone number that originated the call.
A few days following the joint announcement of AT&T and Comcast, Verizon also announced to roll out a free app that blocks unverified robocallers. While the company already offers a paid robocall blocking app for $2.99 a month, the telecom giant announced that it would roll out a free feature later this month.
It is expected that Verizon will soon release the instructions on how to download and use the free app by the end of this coming weeks.