Robocallers Face Growing International Alliance

The FCC receives more consumer complaints about unwanted calls and texts than it receives about any other subject. The Commission’s complaint database shows that each year more than 200,000 consumers complain to the Commission about unwanted calls, including robocalls and telemarketing. Indeed, at least one outside source estimates that as many as 2.4 billion robocalls are made each month in the United States.

Unsolicited calls and text messages are a global problem. Unsolicited calls and text messages are more than just a nuisance these days. They are used to perpetrate criminal fraud, phishing attacks, and identity theft schemes all around the world. These calls often overwhelm facilities, including emergency or 911 call centers. Those responsible for sending unwanted calls and texts often operate from outside of the United States, too often allowing them to evade our enforcement. Indeed, it is very easy for these scammers to operate from multiple countries, hide their locations, change their phone numbers between calls, trick caller ID systems into displaying false or trusted numbers, increasingly demand payments in hard-to-trace forms such as cash or gift cards, and move quickly to avoid detection and prosecution in our increasingly mobile world.

In one notable case that we worked last year, overseas identity theft scammers made hundreds of thousands of robocalls to wireless phones belonging to residents in West Virginia. Affected consumers reported that the calls began around 9:00 a.m. and repeated every 2 to 5 minutes until around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. The fraudsters used a variant of the well-known “Rachel from Cardholder Services” scam in the hopes of harvesting consumers’ personal information. Although the FCC was able to identify the source of the illegal robocalls and cut off the source of the call traffic within 14 days of learning of the campaign, the fraudsters themselves were based outside the United States—effectively beyond the FCC’s grasp.

In our efforts to protect consumers from criminal scams and unlawful intrusions, we recognize the need to work closely with our international law enforcement partners and other regulatory agencies to stop illegal calls and texts – and to ensure those who make them are held accountable. Earlier this year, the FCC took an important step to improve international collaboration by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with members of the Unsolicited Communications Enforcement Network (“UCENet,” formerly called the London Action Plan). This team of robo-cops is a global network of law enforcement authorities and regulatory agencies who combat unsolicited communications. UCENet coordinates and promotes international cooperation and activities targeting unlawful communications. We share intelligence, identify common threats, learn from each other’s best practices and assist each other with investigations where permissible. The UCENet MOU, as well as an MOU that we signed last week with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, provides a framework for participating agencies to share enforcement data. Through this agreement, the Enforcement Bureau can exchange enforcement data with its partner agencies and work closely with them on international and cross-jurisdictional enforcement actions related to robocalls and similar unlawful practices.

In addition to working with our global partners, the Enforcement Bureau continues to work closely with federal and state law enforcement agencies in the United States to stop unlawful calls and texts. For example, we have coordinated with other federal agencies to combat an extensive and pernicious scam of robocallers pretending to represent the Internal Revenue Service and bilk consumers out of millions of dollars. We have also worked with phone carriers to identify sources of fraudulent calls, such as the massive robocalling scheme in West Virginia. Our work with UCENet, our domestic partners, and the industry are all good examples of our ongoing efforts to more effectively respond to this threat by collaborating more closely with partners, leveraging our respective resources to identify scammers, and protecting consumers at home and on their cell.


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