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  1. Supreme Court rules Facebook text alerts not akin to robocalls © Getty Images The Supreme Court on Thursday sided unanimously with Facebook, ruling that a notification system the social media giant employs to alert users to suspicious logins does not run afoul of a federal law aimed at curbing robocalls and automated text messages. The decision derailed a proposed class-action lawsuit that sought to hold Facebook liable under a 1991 law that imposed a general ban on automated calls. The justices found that Facebook’s opt-in security notification feature fell outside the law, even though the program was found to have transmitted unwanted text messages. The court rejected an argument from a recipient of unwanted Facebook texts, who claimed that the company’s messaging program amounted to an “autodialer,” which generally involves the use of a random or sequential number generator. “Expanding the definition of an autodialer to encompass any equipment that merely stores and dials telephone numbers would take a chainsaw to these nuanced problems when Congress meant to use a scalpel,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. The class-action suit was brought by Noah Duguid, a man who received repeated Facebook text notifications alerting him to unusual login attempts, despite the fact that Duguid says he has never had a Facebook account. Facebook said it was possible Duguid’s phone number was linked to Facebook alerts by the phone number’s previous owner. A trial court agreed with Facebook’s request to toss the case, but a San Francisco-based federal appeal court reversed, prompting Facebook’s appeal to the Supreme Court. Updated at 1:05 p.m. Source: Supreme Court rules Facebook text alerts not akin to robocalls
  2. FTC joins 38 states in takedown of massive charity robocall operation Over $110 million was taken from victims who believed they were funding veteran, children, and firefighter charities. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has closed down a huge charity fundraising scam that duped victims out of $110 million. The FTC said on Thursday that together with 46 agencies from 38 states, the organization was able to stamp out the telefunding operation, which has made an estimated 1.3 billion "deceptive" calls to at least 67 million US citizens. According to the FTC, the communication "bombardment" was mainly comprised of illegal robocalls, but after residents were told they would be funding charity projects related to firefighters, veterans, and children, millions of dollars were still raised by the group using "deceptive solicitations." The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges that Associated Community Services (ACS) and associated defendants "knew that the organizations for which they were fundraising spent little or no money on the charitable causes they claimed to support," and out of every dollar generated, the ACS and others kept as much as 90 cents. Since at least 2008, the FTC says solicitations were made on behalf of "numerous organizations" that claimed to help homeless veterans, children with autism, house fire sufferers, breast cancer patients, and more. ACS was also allegedly the main fundraiser for sham cancer charities that were shut down in 2015. ACS defendants have been the subject of 20 prior law enforcement actions over fundraising. The complaint claims that US Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) violations were constant, in which soundboards were used to generate robocalls originating from the Philippines and India. In addition, the FTC says that the agency's own regulations were broken alongside numerous state laws. ACS was also charged with making harassing calls in the complaint. According to the agency, over 1.3 million phone numbers were called more than 10 times in a single week, and more than 500 numbers were called over 5,000 times. ACS and sister companies Central Processing Services and Community Services Appeal, as well as their owners, have agreed to settle with the FTC over the charges. Under the terms of the settlement, pending court approval, the defendants will be banned from fundraising and from utilizing existing donor lists or conducting any kind of telemarketing. Monetary judgments have been issued but many are either partly or fully suspended due to inabilities to pay. "Robocall technology such as soundboards allows users to reach a significant target population, and when utilized for deceptive or misleading practices -- especially in charitable solicitations, it, unfortunately, means a significant number of potential victims," commented Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. "We must take swift action to hold accountable those who are unlawfully using this technology to serve their own agendas and preying on unsuspecting, hardworking people." Source: FTC joins 38 states in takedown of massive charity robocall operation
  3. FCC fines two Texas telemarketers $225 million for making 1 billion robocalls It's the largest fine in the agency's history. Jessica Rosenworcel answers a question during an oversight hearing held by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in Washington, U.S. June 24, 2020. Jonathan Newton/Pool via REUTERS POOL New / reuters The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued the largest fine in its history. Two Texas-based telemarketers are on the hook for $225 million after making approximately 1 billion robocalls to people across the US. They ran at least two businesses that illegally spoofed other companies to try and sell people on short-term insurance plans, claiming they were from well-known providers like Cigna. One of the people involved in the scheme admitted to making "millions" of robocalls per day, even going so far as to go out of his way to call numbers on the Do Not Call list because he believed it would be more profitable to do so. According to the FCC, "a large portion" of the more than 23.6 million health insurance robocalls that crossed US wireless networks in 2018 came from Rising Eagle, one of the companies the two telemarketers ran. A fine, even the biggest in the agency's history, is unlikely to rein in robocalls. In fact, there's evidence to suggest they haven't been effective at all. Two years ago, a report from The Wall Street Journal found that between 2015 and 2019, the FCC had ordered violators of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to pay $208.4 million in penalties. By the end of that period, the agency had only collected $6,790. That number may have changed in the years since the WSJ's report came out. All the same, it's not encouraging. If there's good news, it's that the FCC isn't limiting itself to fines. In a separate announcement, the agency detailed its new anti-robocall agenda. Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has established a Robocall Response Team. Made up of 51 FCC members across six offices, the team will coordinate the agency's anti-robocall efforts and develop new policies for it to put in place. It has also sent cease-and-desist letters to six companies in Canada, the UK and the US that have consistently spurned its guidelines on automated calls. If the companies don't comply with the letters, the FCC says it may instruct voice providers in the US to block all traffic from them permanently. Source: FCC fines two Texas telemarketers $225 million for making 1 billion robocalls
  4. DOJ sues US telecom providers for connecting Indian robocall scammers One provider connected 720 million calls in 23 days. Enlarge Luis Alvarez / Getty Images The US Department of Justice has filed lawsuits (PDF and PDF) against two small telecommunications providers that have allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents. The feds want a New York federal judge to cut off the companies' access to the US telephone network. The government says a judge has already issued a restraining order against one of the defendants. Fraudulent robocalls are a serious problem in the United States—and the Justice Department says two US companies contributed significantly to the problem. Over a 23-day period in May and June of last year, for example, defendant TollFreeDeals connected 720 million calls to US numbers. According to the Justice Department, 425 million of the calls lasted for one second or less—suggesting that many were unwanted. The feds say that during those two months, TollFreeDeals connected 182 million calls from a single India-based call center. Of these calls, more than 90 percent appeared to come from one of 1,000 source numbers. And of those numbers, more than 80 percent have been associated with fraudulent robocalls. Foreigners seeking to scam American consumers need access to the US telephone network. The two US companies sued by the Justice Department served as VOIP-based gateways between foreign call centers and the US telephone network. They were tiny operations; according to the government, each company did business from the home of its owner. The companies' overseas clients engaged in a number of scams that might sound familiar to anyone who owns a phone in the US. In one popular scam, fraudsters pretend to work for the Social Security Administration and inform victims that their Social Security number has been "suspended." Other scam callers impersonated the IRS, Microsoft, or other large American organizations. In all cases, the suggested remedy was the same: send the scammers money to help clear up the problem. In one case, the feds say, a man was told that officials were about to seize the contents of his bank account. The caller claimed to be from the US Marshals Service and told the man to wire his savings—$9,800—to the scammer for safekeeping. The man did so. By the time he realized he'd been scammed, his bank said the money was gone. The feds don't allege that US telecom providers directly executed these frauds. However, they say, the providers turned a blind eye to rampant criminal activity occurring on their networks. Over a period of years, the companies received numerous warnings from other telecom providers that their services were being used for fraud. Federal officials say they did as little as they could to stop the activity while the scammers continued to operate. The lawsuit is just the latest front in the federal government's ongoing war against robocalls and other fraudulent use of the telephone system. With some prodding by the FCC, telephone providers have been implementing a system called SHAKEN/STIR to authenticate caller information. Congress also recently passed legislation mandating the use of the SHAKEN/STIR technology—albeit with a rather lenient deadline of 18 months. "The Department of Justice will pursue to the fullest extent of the law individuals in the United States who knowingly facilitate imposter fraud calls, using both criminal and civil tools where appropriate," Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement. Source: DOJ sues US telecom providers for connecting Indian robocall scammers (Ars Technica)
  5. FCC to require anti-robocall tech after “voluntary” plan didn’t work out Pai follows Congress' orders, requires carriers to verify Caller ID accuracy. Enlarge Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole 114 with 82 posters participating Phone companies would be required to deploy technology that prevents spoofing of Caller ID under a plan announced today by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. Pai framed it as his own decision, with his announcement saying the chairman "proposed a major step forward... to protect consumers against spoofed robocalls." But in reality the FCC was ordered by Congress and President Trump to implement this new rule. The requirement on the FCC was part of the TRACED Act that was signed into law in December 2019. Pai previously hoped that all carriers would deploy the technology voluntarily. "I'm excited about the proposal I'm advancing today: requiring phone companies to adopt a caller ID authentication framework called STIR/SHAKEN," Pai said in his announcement. "Widespread implementation will give American consumers a lot more peace of mind when they pick up the phone." The FCC will vote on the measure at its March 31 meeting. The STIR and SHAKEN protocols use digital certificates, based on public-key cryptography, to verify the accuracy of Caller ID. STIR/SHAKEN would work best if all phone companies adopt it because it can only verify Caller ID when both the sending carrier and receiving carrier have deployed the technology. Robocallers who spoof real numbers to hide their identities would get flagged by STIR/SHAKEN. Depending on how each carrier implements it, flagged calls could be passed on to consumers with a warning or be blocked entirely. Carriers have already been adopting STIR/SHAKEN, but Pai said not all companies have done so. "Last year, I demanded that major phone companies voluntarily deploy STIR/SHAKEN, and a number of them did," Pai said. "But it's clear that FCC action is needed to spur across-the-board deployment of this important technology." STIR/SHAKEN can be used by mobile phone providers and home VoIP services, but landline providers have said they can't deploy it on the older TDM services that run on traditional copper phone lines. That won't change with the FCC action, as the underlying US law and Pai's proposal only "require originating and terminating voice service providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN in the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks." The requirement would apply to big carriers by June 30, 2021 and to small and rural providers one year later. In addition to mobile providers, companies that offer IP-based phone service over cable or fiber lines would have to comply. Robocalls from outside US a major problem While STIR/SHAKEN might help reduce robocalls or slow their growth, it's not enough on its own to solve the large and complicated robocall problem. For one thing, a lot of robocalls originate from overseas. The FCC recently sent letters to seven US-based voice providers "that accept foreign call traffic and terminate it to US consumers," saying these companies' services are "being used as a gateway into the United States for many apparently illegal robocalls that originate overseas." In a related action, the Department of Justice sued two small companies that allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents. The new US law that ordered the FCC to require SHAKEN/STIR gave the FCC discretion on how to regulate calls from overseas. Congress told the FCC to "consider" how the commission can "establish obligations on international gateway providers that are the first point of entry for these calls into the United States, including potential requirements that such providers verify with the foreign originator the nature or purpose of calls before initiating service." But it's up to the FCC on whether to take further action on that point. We asked Pai's office if his plan will have any impact on spoofed calls that originate from overseas and will update this article if we get an answer. The full text of Pai's plan hasn't been released yet. Source: FCC to require anti-robocall tech after “voluntary” plan didn’t work out (Ars Technica)
  6. FCC accuses carriers of being “gateways” for foreign robocallers FCC suggests potential “enforcement actions” in letters to seven phone companies. Enlarge Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole The Federal Communications Commission is asking phone carriers for help blocking robocalls made from outside the US and is implementing a congressionally mandated system to trace the origin of illegal robocalls. The FCC yesterday sent letters to seven US-based voice providers "that accept foreign call traffic and terminate it to US consumers." Tracebacks conducted by the USTelecom trade group and the FCC found that each of these companies' services is "being used as a gateway into the United States for many apparently illegal robocalls that originate overseas," the FCC's letters to the companies say. The FCC letters were sent to All Access Telecom, Globex, Piratel, Talkie, Telcast, ThinQ, and Third Base. These are mainly wholesale voice providers rather than companies that sell phone service directly to home or business customers. For example, All Access Telecom says it provides "wholesale VoIP termination services" to phone providers. An FCC announcement explained: As the point of entry for this traffic into the US telephone network, these companies are uniquely situated to assist government and industry efforts to combat scam robocalls. The letters encourage the companies to take measures to prevent the flow of apparently illegal traffic originating outside the United States. The letters also request information from the companies about their facilitation of international robocalls. In the same announcement, the FCC also said that Chairman Ajit Pai is "propos[ing] new rules that would establish a registration process for selecting a consortium to conduct private-led efforts to trace back the origin of suspected unlawful robocalls." The FCC was required to create this consortium by the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which was approved by Congress in December. Social Security scam "Using 'spoofed' and falsified numbers, foreign robocallers often pose as American companies, and even the US government, in order to deceive and defraud American consumers," the letters to carriers said. One common scam "involved individuals impersonating agents from the Social Security Administration to trick people into divulging personal information or transferring money," the letters said. Perpetrators of this scam "often use spoofing technology to make the caller ID look like a government number" and generally make the calls from foreign call centers, according to the FCC. "This scam cost consumers more than $19 million in the last year," the FCC wrote. The FCC asked the carriers what "technical and procedural processes" they use to "detect or identify call traffic that is likely to be illegal," such as by "detecting unusual call patterns or large call volumes." The carriers were also asked what procedures they use "to ensure that the Caller ID information associated with foreign call traffic has not been unlawfully spoofed." Other questions asked by the FCC are as follows: What percentage of your company's traffic comes from foreign sources? What percentage of your clients are located in a country other than the United States? Does [your company] advertise its services in foreign countries? Have you taken any actions in the last six months to either terminate or restrict foreign traffic that you suspected to be illegal? As noted by the FCC letters, the TRACED Act encouraged the FCC "to take appropriate enforcement actions" against carriers that either don't help "trace back the origin of suspected unlawful robocalls" or who "originate or terminate substantial amounts of unlawful robocalls." The FCC told the carriers that it "will continue to monitor your cooperation." DOJ, FTC also took action The FCC said in its press release that the letters "are part of a coordinated effort with our partners in the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission." As the FCC mentioned, the DOJ last week filed lawsuits against two small voice providers that allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents. Those are the same alleged Social Security scams that the FCC mentioned in its letter to the seven phone providers. Also last week, the FTC announced that it sent letters to 19 VoIP providers "warning them that 'assisting and facilitating' illegal telemarketing or robocalling is against the law." Source: FCC accuses carriers of being “gateways” for foreign robocallers (Ars Technica)
  7. Robocall fines rise to $10,000 per call under newly passed law A holiday gift for anyone with a phone After months of negotiations, Congress approved a landmark bill on Thursday to stop the flood of illegal robocalls. The president is expected to sign it into law within the next few days. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or the TRACED Act, empowers the federal government with new abilities to go after illegal robocallers. Once TRACED is enacted, the Federal Communications Commission could fine robocallers up to $10,000 per call. It also would require major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to deploy a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN into their networks, which will make it easier for consumers to know if they’re receiving a call from a spoofed number. The House voted overwhelmingly to approve the measure earlier this month, and Thursday’s unanimous Senate vote means the bill only requires President Trump’s signature to become law. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said that the bill should be signed into law within the “next week or so.” “I have yet to meet someone who says they enjoy receiving those unwanted and illegal robocalls that plague our phones,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said in a statement. “This bill represents a unique legislative effort that is not only bipartisan at its core, but it’s nearly unanimously supported in Congress.” This year, carriers began to roll out the STIR/SHAKEN protocols into their networks in anticipation of this law. By deploying the protocols, carriers are able to cross-verify numbers on their networks to ensure that a call is coming from an authentic number, not a spoofed one. The FCC has taken a number of steps to fight robocalls under Chairman Ajit Pai. Over the summer, Pai announced that the Commission would be moving to make overseas robocalls and malicious text message spoofing illegal after Congress passed new rules that required them to do so in 2018. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee applauded their colleagues in the Senate for voting to approve the measure. “We’re delighted the Senate acted quickly to pass this legislation to shutdown illegal robocalls,” committee leaders said. “We’re working hard to help the American people get real relief from these relentless and illegal calls.” Source: Robocall fines rise to $10,000 per call under newly passed law (The Verge)
  8. US hits anti-robocall milestone but annoying calls won’t stop any time soon Large carriers deploy STIR/SHAKEN. Small carriers, old landlines are still problems. The nation's largest phone companies have met a federal deadline to deploy a new anti-robocall technology, but unwanted calls and scams will continue to be an annoying problem for Americans for the foreseeable future. Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Wednesday that "the largest voice service providers are now using STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication standards in their IP networks, in accordance with the [June 30] deadline set by the FCC. This widespread implementation helps protect consumers against malicious spoofed robocalls and helps law enforcement track bad actors." STIR/SHAKEN was deployed by large mobile carriers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. In March, the FCC denied petitions for a deadline extension from Verizon and US Cellular, saying that "the petitioners have failed to meet the high standard of 'undue hardship.'" The Verizon petition was limited to a small portion of its fiber-based home phone network. On the mobile side, "Verizon is now exchanging STIR/SHAKEN-enabled calls with wireless carriers that collectively represent around 80 percent of the US wireless industry," Verizon said this week. "More than 135 million calls a day are currently being exchanged between Verizon and the participating carriers, with that number growing quickly." It's also deployed on IP-enabled wireline phone networks operated by Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, and others. STIR/SHAKEN widely used “at last” The technology by itself isn't a robocall cure-all. Its deployment on landline phone networks is much sparser than on mobile networks because of the continued existence of copper landlines that don't support STIR/SHAKEN. Additionally, some companies that carry a lot of robocalls aren't yet required to follow the rules because of an exemption for carriers with 100,000 or fewer customers. The STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs) protocols verify the accuracy of Caller ID by using digital certificates based on public-key cryptography. Getting major US phone companies to adopt the technology is a significant milestone, as it ensures that STIR/SHAKEN will be used by both the sending and receiving carriers in many phone calls. "At last, STIR/SHAKEN standards are a widely used reality in American phone networks," Rosenworcel said. "While there is no silver bullet in the endless fight against scammers, STIR/SHAKEN will turbo-charge many of the tools we use in our fight against robocalls: from consumer apps and network-level blocking, to enforcement investigations and shutting down the gateways used by international robocall campaigns." The STIR/SHAKEN mandate was ordered by Congress after then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's voluntary compliance plan didn't lead to widespread adoption. The deadline applied to large mobile and wireline providers and required them to "implement STIR/SHAKEN in the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks." STIR/SHAKEN itself doesn't stop robocalls. But it is useful because, when the technology is fully deployed by carriers, it checks whether Caller ID is being spoofed. This can help customers spot scams and help carriers improve blocking tools. "While STIR/SHAKEN will improve the quality of caller ID information, it does not mean the call itself is legitimate," the FCC said. "This improved information will help verify the phone number from which the call was made—or flag that it is not verified—and help blocking services both at the consumer level and before the call reaches the consumer." The FCC provided limited exemptions to AT&T, Bandwidth Inc., Charter, Comcast, Cox, Verizon Wireless, and Vonage. But these exemptions were only available to carriers that met "early implementation benchmarks" and certified that they expected to implement STIR/SHAKEN by June 30. These providers are required to "file a second certification after June 30, 2021, stating whether they, in fact, achieved the implementation goal to which they previously committed." Landlines lag, small carriers exempt for now Because of technology limitations, the June 30 requirement did not apply to the older TDM-based networks used with copper landlines. The FCC says its rules "require providers using older forms of network technology to either upgrade their networks to IP or actively work to develop a caller ID authentication solution that is operational on non-IP networks." "Given the large proportion of TDM-based networks still in use, we expect a significant number of calls to be outside the STIR/SHAKEN authentication framework in the near term," the FCC said in an order adopted in September 2020. The requirement also doesn't yet apply to small phone companies because carriers with 100,000 or fewer customers were given until June 30, 2023 to comply. The FCC is seeking comment on a plan to make that deadline June 30, 2022 instead because "evidence demonstrates that a subset of small voice service providers appear to be originating a high number of calls relative to their subscriber base and are also generating a high and increasing share of illegal robocalls compared to larger providers." Because many companies are sending unwanted calls, the FCC is letting telecoms block all calls "from bad-actor upstream voice service providers that pass illegal or unwanted calls along to other providers, when those upstream providers have been notified but fail to take action to stop these calls." Robocall Mitigation Database The FCC in April also launched its Robocall Mitigation Database and requires voice providers "to inform the agency of their robocall mitigation efforts, including their STIR/SHAKEN implementation status." Providers that don't comply could have their calls blocked, as the FCC explained in this week's announcement: Beginning on September 28, 2021, if a voice service provider's certification does not appear in the database, intermediate and voice service providers will be prohibited from directly accepting the provider's traffic. To date, over 1,500 voice service providers have filed in the database. Over 200 voice service providers have certified to full STIR/SHAKEN implementation and hundreds more have certified to partial implementation—generally certifying to full implementation on the IP portions of their networks. Those certifying to anything short of full STIR/SHAKEN implementation must describe the new steps they are taking to ensure they are not the source of illegal robocalls. Unfortunately, robocalls originating from overseas remain a stubborn problem. Multiple US agencies have worked on this problem; the Department of Justice last year sued small voice providers that allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents, and the FCC has pressured US-based carriers that act as "gateways" for foreign robocalls to block them. Gap in AT&T network There's a STIR/SHAKEN gap in at least one large network. In December 2020, AT&T told the FCC that it "recently discovered that a small volume of calls entering AT&T's network on its wholesale VoIP platform (AT&T VoIP Connect Service or 'AVOICS') and terminating to AT&T VoLTE customers use network elements that cannot retain the SHAKEN header information and thus cannot be verified." The FCC later noted that "by AT&T's own admission, it will not be capable of fully implementing STIR/SHAKEN on its wireless network by the June 30, 2021, deadline." AT&T told the FCC that the AVOICS problem affects "approximately four percent of AT&T's VoLTE traffic" and that it expected to move up to half of the affected traffic to the "STIR/SHAKEN-enabled portions of its network" by June 30. On June 22, an AT&T press release said the carrier is now "blocking or labeling more than 1 billion robocalls per month," and that it is using STIR/SHAKEN to improve the blocking and labeling "with extra data for detection and accuracy." US hits anti-robocall milestone but annoying calls won’t stop any time soon
  9. A new report highlights how nimble scammers and spammers are in the face efforts to combat robocalls. Despite new initiatives by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and carriers, robocalls aren’t on the wane. Americans are still facing a scourge of 200 million unwanted robocalls a day, according to a report from Transaction Network Services (TNS), a major telecommunications network and services company. And nearly 30% of all U.S. calls were negative (nuisance, scam or fraud calls) in the first six months of the year, TNS said. One unsurprising statistic mentioned in the report. VoIP-originated calls generated over 50% of the negatively scored calls in the first half of 2019 by total volume, up from 48% last year. FCC efforts not very effective so far The FCC is trying to do something about it. In June 2019, it ruled that phone companies can, as a default, aggressively block unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers. But that hasn’t seemed to make much of a dent so far. Nuisance calls jumped 38% from the third quarter of last year, while high-risk calls –such as scammers targeting identity theft – were up 28%, TNS said. 200 million unwanted calls a day Nuisance calls jump 38% High-risk calls up 28% And the FCC actually saw an 8% increase year-over year in consumer robocall complaints when comparing February-June 2019 to February-June 2018, as cited by TNS in the report. There is a limit to what major U.S. carriers can do. They are only a small part of the problem, TNS said. While 70% of all calls (normal calls and unwanted calls) come from major U.S. carriers, only 12% of the high-risk calls are from the big carriers. That means the problem lies with lesser-known providers. So in mid-February the FCC sent a proposal to extend the reach of U.S. caller ID spoofing rules to include communications originating from outside the U.S. to recipients within the United States. Scams: younger vs older. Hijacking now a threat A growing threat is robocall hijacking – when a subscriber’s number is hijacked by a bad guy – doubling over last year’s figure, TNS said. TNS estimates that 1 in 1,700 numbers were hijacked by spoofers in 28 day-period. In the last report the frequency was only 1 in 4,000. In one case of hijacking, a spoofer placed over 36,000 scam calls in a 3-day period according to the TNS report. “The hijacking of real wireless numbers is rising.” – 2019 1H Robocall Investigation Report, Transaction Network Services Another spoofing threat cited in the report is that of legitimate toll-free numbers of leading tech companies. Here, the scammer will claim there is something wrong with the victim’s account at the company and try to get personal information. Is there a solution? Yes, if you can adapt the way you use your phone to the Do Not Disturb feature. On both the iPhone and Android it’s simple but very effective. You turn on Do Not Disturb in Settings and then make an exception for your contacts. As a result, unwanted calls will not get through. And just in case one of those calls is one you actually want, you will see it as a “missed call.” It doesn’t work exactly the same way on all phones but it does on most iPhones and Android phones from major phone suppliers and carriers. Impostor scams. Source
  10. Robocall Legal Advocate Leaks Customer Data A California company that helps telemarketing firms avoid getting sued for violating a federal law that seeks to curb robocalls has leaked the phone numbers, email addresses and passwords of all its customers, as well as the mobile phone numbers and other data on people who have hired lawyers to go after telemarketers. The Blacklist Alliance provides technologies and services to marketing firms concerned about lawsuits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law that restricts the making of telemarketing calls through the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages. The TCPA prohibits contact with consumers — even via text messages — unless the company has “prior express consent” to contact the consumer. With statutory damages of $500 to $1,500 per call, the TCPA has prompted a flood of lawsuits over the years. From the telemarketer’s perspective, the TCPA can present something of a legal minefield in certain situations, such as when a phone number belonging to someone who’d previously given consent gets reassigned to another subscriber. Enter The Blacklist Alliance, which promises to help marketers avoid TCPA legal snares set by “professional plaintiffs and class action attorneys seeking to cash in on the TCPA.” According to the Blacklist, one of the “dirty tricks” used by TCPA “frequent filers” includes “phone flipping,” or registering multiple prepaid cell phone numbers to receive calls intended for the person to whom a number was previously registered. Lawyers representing TCPA claimants typically redact their clients’ personal information from legal filings to protect them from retaliation and to keep their contact information private. The Blacklist Alliance researches TCPA cases to uncover the phone numbers of plaintiffs and sells this data in the form of list-scrubbing services to telemarketers. “TCPA predators operate like malware,” The Blacklist explains on its website. “Our Litigation Firewall isolates the infection and protects you from harm. Scrub against active plaintiffs, pre litigation complainers, active attorneys, attorney associates, and more. Use our robust API to seamlessly scrub these high-risk numbers from your outbound campaigns and inbound calls, or adjust your suppression settings to fit your individual requirements and appetite for risk.” Unfortunately for the Blacklist paying customers and for people represented by attorneys filing TCPA lawsuits, the Blacklist’s own Web site until late last week leaked reams of data to anyone with a Web browser. Thousands of documents, emails, spreadsheets, images and the names tied to countless mobile phone numbers all could be viewed or downloaded without authentication from the domain theblacklist.click. The directory also included all 388 Blacklist customer API keys, as well as each customer’s phone number, employer, username and password (scrambled with the relatively weak MD5 password hashing algorithm). The leaked Blacklist customer database points to various companies you might expect to see using automated calling systems to generate business, including real estate and life insurance providers, credit repair companies and a long list of online advertising firms and individual digital marketing specialists. The very first account in the leaked Blacklist user database corresponds to its CEO Seth Heyman, an attorney in southern California. Mr. Heyman did not respond to multiple requests for comment, although The Blacklist stopped leaking its database not long after that contact request. Two other accounts marked as administrators were among the third and sixth registered users in the database; those correspond to two individuals at Riip Digital, a California-based email marketing concern that serves a diverse range of clients in the lead generation business, from debt relief and timeshare companies, to real estate firms and CBD vendors. Riip Digital did not respond to requests for comment. But According to Spamhaus, an anti-spam group relied upon by many Internet service providers (ISPs) to block unsolicited junk email, the company has a storied history of so-called “snowshoe spamming,” which involves junk email purveyors who try to avoid spam filters and blacklists by spreading their spam-sending systems across a broad swath of domains and Internet addresses. The irony of this data leak is that marketers who constantly scrape the Web for consumer contact data may not realize the source of the information, and end up feeding it into automated systems that peddle dubious wares and services via automated phone calls and text messages. To the extent this data is used to generate sales leads that are then sold to others, such a leak could end up causing more legal problems for The Blacklist’s customers. The Blacklist and their clients talk a lot about technologies that they say separate automated telephonic communications from dime-a-dozen robocalls, such as software that delivers recorded statements that are manually selected by a live agent. But for your average person, this is likely a distinction without a difference. Robocalls are permitted for political candidates, but beyond that if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), companies are using auto-dialers to send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost. In fiscal year 2019, the FTC received 3.78 million complaints about robocalls. Readers may be able to avoid some marketing calls by registering their mobile number with the Do Not Call registry, but the list appears to do little to deter all automated calls — particularly scam calls that spoof their real number. If and when you do receive robocalls, consider reporting them to the FTC. Some wireless providers now offer additional services and features to help block automated calls. For example, AT&T offers wireless customers its free Call Protect app, which screens incoming calls and flags those that are likely spam calls. See the FCC’s robocall resource page for links to resources at your mobile provider. In addition, there are a number of third-party mobile apps designed to block spammy calls, such as Nomorobo and TrueCaller. Obviously, not all telemarketing is spammy or scammy. I have friends and relatives who’ve worked at non-profits that rely a great deal on fundraising over the phone. Nevertheless, readers who are fed up with telemarketing calls may find some catharsis in the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, which offers subscribers a choice of automated bots that keep telemarketers engaged for several minutes. The service lets subscribers choose which callers should get the bot treatment, and then records the result. For my part, the volume of automated calls hitting my mobile number got so bad that I recently enabled a setting on my smart phone to simply send to voicemail all calls from numbers that aren’t already in my contacts list. This may not be a solution for everyone, but since then I haven’t received a single spammy jingle. Robocall Legal Advocate Leaks Customer Data
  11. Supreme Court strikes down 2015 law allowing robocalls by debt collectors Collectors of US-backed debt no longer allowed to make robocalls to cell phones. Enlarge Getty Images | Olivier Le Moal 61 with 45 posters participating The US Supreme Court today struck down a provision in US law that let debt collectors make robocalls to cell phones, ruling that the law violates the First Amendment by favoring debt-collection speech over other speech. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 prohibits "almost all robocalls to cell phones," but Congress in 2015 amended the law to add "a new government-debt exception that allows robocalls made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States," the Supreme Court noted in today's ruling. The opinion was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "As the Government concedes, the robocall restriction with the government-debt exception cannot satisfy strict scrutiny," the ruling said. "The Government has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, issue advocacy, and the like." Government-backed loans affected by the ruling include student loans, home mortgages, veterans' loans, farm loans, and business loans. The case began when the American Association of Political Consultants and three other organizations that "make calls to citizens to discuss candidates and issues, solicit donations, conduct polls, and get out the vote" sought the invalidation of the entire TCPA, the ruling said: Plaintiffs in this case are political and nonprofit organizations that want to make political robocalls to cell phones. Invoking the First Amendment, they argue that the 2015 government-debt exception unconstitutionally favors debt-collection speech over political and other speech. As relief from that unconstitutional law, they urge us to invalidate the entire 1991 robocall restriction, rather than simply invalidating the 2015 government-debt exception. Six of the nine justices determined that the 2015 update to the law "impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment," the ruling said. But instead of striking down the whole law, the Supreme Court found that the TCPA can be enforced without the exception for debt collectors. That's partly because the "TCPA is part of the Communications Act, which has contained an express severability clause since 1934." But even if that clause didn't exist, "the presumption of severability would still apply," the court said. "The remainder of the law is capable of functioning independently and would be fully operative as a law. Severing this relatively narrow exception to the broad robocall restriction fully cures the First Amendment unequal treatment problem and does not raise any other constitutional problems," the high court said. Because of traditional severability principles, "the 2015 government-debt exception must be invalidated and severed from the remainder of the statute," the court said. While plaintiffs didn't get what they asked for, Americans now have legal protection against robocalls from debt collectors. "As a result, plaintiffs still may not make political robocalls to cell phones, but their speech is now treated equally with debt-collection speech," the Supreme Court said. The plaintiffs in the case did not challenge the TCPA's ban on robocalls to home phones. The Federal Communications Commission enforces the law but is largely ineffective at collecting on fines issued to violators. Court “side[d] with American consumers” Today's Supreme Court ruling upheld a previous ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. That Fourth Circuit judgment overturned a District Court ruling that upheld the debt-collection provision "because of the Government's compelling interest in collecting debt," the Supreme Court ruling said. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) praised the court's decision today. "The court rightly found that government debt collectors aren't entitled to a special exception to the TCPA's ban on robocalling," Markey and Eshoo said in a joint statement. "We applaud the court's decision to side with American consumers, protect our right to privacy from these abusive calls, deter countless scams that target our most vulnerable populations, and ensure that our phones will remain usable." Noting that the court allowed the TCPA to stand on its own without the debt-collection exception, Markey and Eshoo said that "today's decision preserves the TCPA's ability to protect Americans from countless unwanted robocalls every year, every day, and indeed every hour and minute." Markey was one of the authors of the 1991 law. How each justice ruled Kavanaugh was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito in finding that "the robocall restriction with the government-debt exception is content-based" and is "subject to strict scrutiny." Content-based restrictions on speech have to pass greater legal scrutiny than content-neutral restrictions. "The Government's stated justification for the government-debt exception is collecting government debt," the Kavanaugh-written opinion said. "Although collecting government debt is no doubt a worthy goal, the Government concedes that it has not sufficiently justified the differentiation between government-debt collection speech and other important categories of robocall speech, such as political speech, charitable fundraising, issue advocacy, commercial advertising, and the like." Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred with the judgment, finding that the debt-collection provision "fails intermediate scrutiny because it is not 'narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.'" Justice Neil Gorsuch found that "the TCPA's rule against cellphone robocalls is a content-based restriction that fails strict scrutiny," but rejected the severability argument and said "the plaintiffs are entitled to an injunction preventing [the TCPA's] enforcement against them." Meanwhile, "Justice [Stephen] Breyer, joined by Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and Justice [Elena] Kagan, would have upheld the government-debt exception, but given the contrary majority view, agreed that the provision is severable from the rest of the statute," the ruling said. The TCPA generally bans unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls but explicitly provides an exemption for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. Supreme Court strikes down 2015 law allowing robocalls by debt collectors
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