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NJ Attorney General Grewal Urges FCC to Create New Rules To Discourage Illegal Robocalls, Including “Neighbor Spoofing”

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create new rules to allow telephone service providers to block more illegal robocalls being made to unsuspecting residents in New Jersey and across the country.

Attorney General Grewal joined a bipartisan coalition of 34 Attorneys General in formal comments to the FCC, explaining that scammers using illegal robocalls have found ways to evade a call-blocking order entered last year by the FCC.

Despite the FCC’s order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers across the U.S. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints – two-and-a-half times more than in 2014. Robocalls are among the most common complaints submitted to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and the FTC, with New Jersey residents submitting more than 134,000 complaints to the FTC in the past 12 months alone.

Following last year’s FCC order granting phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls, the coalition of Attorneys General now seeks added authority for providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls – including “neighbor spoofing.”

“These robocalls are not just disruptive and bothersome. They are used to deceive the elderly and other vulnerable populations, and to facilitate scams that can result in identify theft, credit card fraud and other crimes,” said Attorney General Grewal. “As Attorney General, I take seriously my responsibility to protect New Jersey residents from this kind of unlawful activity. We need the FCC to heed our request and create new rules to let telephone service providers block more types of illegal robocalls.”

“Spoofing” allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice.

“Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection,” Attorney General Grewal and the other Attorneys General wrote in the formal comments letter filed today.

One tactic on the rise is “neighbor spoofing,” a technique that allows calls – no matter where they originate – to appear on a consumer’s caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.

On Nov. 17, 2017, the FCC issued the 2017 Call-Blocking Order. In today’s comments, the Attorneys General express support for the new initiative, which will give phone service providers the ability to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls and block them.

The added authority sought by the Attorneys General will allow service providers to use new technology to detect and block illegal spoofed calls – even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019.

To date, the FCC has not issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking. The Attorneys General anticipate that further requests for comments will take place on this subject.

The initiative for which the Attorneys General seek FCC approval concerns illegal robocalls – which are made to consumers regardless of whether or not they sign up for do-not-call lists.

Along with lead state Pennsylvania, Attorney General Grewal was joined in the formal multi-state comments letter by the Attorneys General of Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.

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