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Telemarketing and Robocalls: Top Consumer Complaints Received by the FCC

June 30, 2017

Paige V. Schroeder

The Federal Communications Commission has recently taken important steps in its efforts to protect consumers against illegal robocalls, including scam calls. Complaints concerning illegal robocalls and telemarketing calls are the top consumer complaints received by the FCC each year.

On May 17, 2017, the FCC published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry seeking comments on rules intended to address these issues. In part, the proposed rules would codify the “Do-Not-Originate” initiative was proposed by the FCC and is being carried out by an industry established Robocall Strike Force that has been working to develop technological and policy solutions to the robocall problem. Among other things, the “Do-Not-Originate” program aims to prevent scammers from being able to spoof numbers belonging to legitimate organizations such as government agencies and charities. For example, entities with assigned phone numbers that are never used to originate outbound calls but have been used for malicious spoofing can contact their carrier to participate. The FCC believes the proposed rules will continue to grow these efforts and provide greater protections for consumers.

The proposed rules would allow providers to block calls: (1) upon request of the subscriber to the originating number where the caller ID number is spoofed; (2) from numbers when the spoofed caller ID cannot possibly be valid; (3) from numbers that are not allocated to any voice service provider; and (4) from numbers that are allocated to a provider but have not been assigned to any subscriber.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also seeks comments on how to address a number of issues aimed at reducing robocalls, such as how to define “illegal robocalls” under the rules in order to best protect consumers while ensuring that legitimate calls are not being blocked. The FCC is also seeking comments on whether it should consider special rules for internationally originated calls, which may pose the most harmful threat to U.S. consumers.

Currently, the blocking of calls is unlawful, under almost all circumstances. However the FCC is seeking to create a framework whereby providers can block the fraudulent calls without harming legitimate calls. In the Notice of Inquiry, the FCC seeks comments on how to establish standards that indicate to a “reasonably high degree of certainty” that a call is illegal and can be blocked and whether to adopt a safe harbor provision to give providers certainty that they will not be found in violation of call completion rules if they take reasonable steps to confirm that the calls are illegal.

The threat posed by robocalls should be on the radar of all consumers, individuals and businesses alike. The FCC’s recent steps show it is willing to take aggressive steps to target scammers and protect consumers while providing protections for legitimate callers. Comments on these issues are due by July 3, 2017, and reply comments are due by July 31, 2017.



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