The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission have warned telephone companies that serve as gateways for overseas calls to stop forwarding coronavirus-related robocall scams.
The agencies sent joint letters to three U.S. gateway providers – they act as onramps for international calls into the U.S. phone network – demanding they cut off robocalls designed to take advantage of consumer fears about the COVID-19 virus.
The FCC and FTC gave the three companies – SIPJoin of Suffolk, Virginia, Connexum of Orange, California, and VoIP Terminator/BLMarketing of Lake Mary, Florida – 48 hours to stop “routing and transmitting” the calls into the U.S. or “face serious consequences,” the agencies said in announcements about the action.
COVID-19 scams cited by the agencies include one Philippines-originating robocall campaign touting a “non-existent ‘free test kit’ for COVID-19,” according to the FCC. Another, which originates in Pakistan, offers HVAC cleaning services that “robocallers falsely claim will help fight COVID-19,” the agency said.
The FCC and FTC have been working with the Justice Department to stop robocall scams. The Traceback Group, a call-tracking consortium of phone companies managed by the USTelecom trade association identified by calls. The commissions also requested USTelecom to ask its members – the roster includes AT&T, CenturyLink, Cisco, Frontier Communications, Oracle, Verizon – to begin blocking calls from the three providers if the robocalls do not stop within 48 hours.
“During this national emergency, it is unconscionable that these companies are abusing their access to our nation’s telephone network by serving as conduits for scam robocallers who are subjecting Americans to coronavirus-related fraud. This must end and must end now,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “And to any other service provider that’s carrying or is thinking of carrying such traffic, be warned: If you do so, you too will find yourselves excluded from our phone system.”
Earlier this week, the FCC passed rules requiring phone companies adopt caller ID features as part of the technical standard called SHAKEN/STIR, or Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited, by June 30, 2021. The commission also is considering regulations that would require other telecom companies such as gateway providers to adopt the caller ID rules.
Caller ID adoption would combat “spoofing,” which uses a false caller ID to make it appear as if the call is coming from a nearby location.
Also last week, the FTC warned nine companies, most of them Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers, against “assisting and facilitating” illegal COVID-19 telemarking or robocalls. The FTC can seek civil penalties and court injunctions to stop fraudulent telemarketing calls.
“The FTC will not stand for illegal robocallers that harm the public, particularly in the middle of a health crisis.” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in a statement. “These warning letters make clear that VoIP providers who help illegal robocallers prey on fears surrounding the Coronavirus are squarely in our sights.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.