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A car warranty robocall campaign has broken down, along with its helpers

A car warranty robocall campaign has broken down, along with its helpers

Robocalls suck. They cost us money and time, and are so ubiquitous that the big majority of Americans don’t even answer their phone if they don’t know who’s calling. Everyone knows it’s a problem, but no one seems to be able to do anything about it. That may be changing.

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday that it ordered phone companies to block calling traffic that the agency said is part of a massive car-guaranteed robocall operation that is responsible for 8 billion illegal robocalls since 2018.

Or, as FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel put it, “Billions of automatic guarantee robocalls from a single call campaign. Billions!”

The FCC has been trying to stop or at least reduce illegal robocalls for years, only to see their number increase along with the number of consumers irritation. But it seems those efforts are finally paying off. The agency is not only trying to take down the robocall campaigns, it is also trying to find and chase the companies that facilitate them.

“We do not tolerate robocall scammers or those who enable their scams. Consumers are out of patience and I agree with them,” Rosenworcel added in a statement about the order last Thursday.

The order targets eight companies whose systems were the source of those calls, the FCC said. In other words, scammers bought access to our phones through these service providers. So not only is the robocall campaign being pursued by the FCC, but the telephone companies that made all those calls are also being punished — and other carriers are being warned not to accept traffic from robocallers, too. This should lead to fewer robocalls overall.

This is all part of a bigger crackdown. To deceive victims and evade authorities, illegal robocall networks typically buy huge blocks of legitimate phone numbers from voice providers who are happy to look the other way, as long as they get paid and there are no consequences.

But earlier this month, the Attorney Generals of the FCC and Ohio said they had identified and… were taking action against several individuals who they claimed were behind a robocall operation responsible for some of those infamous car warranty calls. The FCC also sent stop-and-stop letters to eight voice providers who they believed were forwarding robocalls. The agency was able to determine who those providers were through some of the industry-wide measures taken in recent years.

“I would say this is an important development because it shows that the FCC expects the industry to work together to stop unwanted robocalls,” said Jim Tyrrell, senior director of product marketing at TNS, which offers robocall identification and mitigation services. “The FCC takes this threat very seriously and wants to ensure these actors are blocked,”

The FCC has issued such letters before, Tyrrell said, but the companies they were sent to all responded to the letters and no further action was required. The eight providers – Call Pipe, Fugle Telecom, Geist Telecom, Global Lynks, Mobi Telecom, SipKonnect, South Dakota Telecom and Virtual Telecom – were given the opportunity to respond to the letters. But in this case, none of the carriers responded, allowing the FCC to order all phone companies to block calls from them. Needless to say, a telephone company whose calls are not accepted by any other provider is no longer such a telephone company.

“This is the first such order,” FCC spokesman Will Wiquist told Recode. “We believe this is an impactful effort made possible by the improved traceability resulting from the widespread STIR/SHAKEN implementation, productive partnerships with other investigators such as the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and strong pressure from Chairman Rosenworcel to take aggressive steps with all our resources. instruments to really protect consumers.”

Providers who fail to take reasonable steps to stop calls from those eight companies risk themselves in trouble.

“The implicit threat is that if the FCC determines that a provider allows this traffic, the committee will take action,” Tyrrell said.

This could be the kind of threat that the industry needs to make a real effort to stop the scourge of phone calls to consumers. Last year, the FCC began mandating carriers to implement STIR/SHAKE, a framework that makes it possible to trace calls back to their carriers. It was not an instant solution as smaller providers were given extra time to implement it. That extra time has expired at this point, however, and the ability to trace calls back is what the FCC says helped investigators track the robocalls to those eight providers.

The FCC is also steadily to spend and to introduce record fines against other robocalling operations. The number of robocalls seems to be decreasing, which is good news. However, the number of robot texts has increased. A lot. Which suggests that scammers may just move on to a new way to annoy and scam us.

On the other hand, the robocall threat may still be too great to stop quickly. Two of the people accused of being behind this latest operation Roy Cox Jr. and Aaron Michael Jones, have previously gotten into trouble for robocalls and as a result were permanently banned from telemarketing by the Federal Trade Commission (both the FCC and FTC can go after robocalls). If the agency’s latest allegations are true, those bans haven’t done much to discourage them, and it shouldn’t be hard for them to restart operations if they can find more providers.

“The problem is that with so many smaller VoIP providers, the bad player is just moving their traffic from one provider to another,” Tyrrell said. “It’s like a whack-a-mole game.”