December 27, 2023

Year in Review: How the FCC Targeted Robocallers in 2023

Year in Review: How the FCC Targeted Robocallers in 2023

With 2023 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on how the FCC tackled the ongoing problem of illegal robocalls. The average person receives 5.6 spam calls monthly, but the agency now has various enforcement measures to protect the American public. We’ll also explore the year’s most common phone and text fraud scams.

FCC Enforcement Against Robocalls

The FCC used enhanced robocall enforcement in 2023, with the TRACED Act giving them more powers to safeguard consumers. The law already required the agency to mandate STIR/SHAKEN, a framework that lets phone companies confirm caller I.D. information. However, the FCC now requires call providers to take reasonable steps to reduce illegal robocalls and submit a mitigation and certification plan to its Robocall Migration Database.

Also, any non-gateway intermediate provider in a call chain must use STIR/SHAKEN to verify unauthenticated IP calls from December 21, 2022. Companies that fail to comply with the FCC’s rules could face expensive penalties and other legal action.

Here are some other recent developments involving the FCC you should know about:

Avid Telecom Sued

Avid Telecom, which provides VoIP services, landed in hot water in 2023 after allegedly routing billions of robocalls. That’s despite the company already receiving warnings from state and federal authorities. The Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force, created in 2022, claims Avid Telecom also engaged in other deceptive business practices, such as calling numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry and misrepresenting goods and services. The FCC sent Avid Telecom a cease and desist letter in June, proving the agency is committed to protecting consumers from unwanted robocalls.

Auto-Warranty Robocallers Shut Down

The FCC showed it meant business this year by issuing its largest-ever fine to a robocall operation offering fake extended auto warranties. Those who engaged in the scam received a $300 million penalty from the agency for making 5 billion robocalls to over 500 million phone numbers over three months in 2021. That violated several FCC regulations and federal statutes. By working directly with carriers to block these unwanted communications, the FCC reduced the number of illegal auto warranty calls by a massive 99%.

Industry Traceback Group Backed by FCC

Also this year, the FCC named the Industry Traceback Group (ITG) as the organization responsible for tracking the origin of robocalls. ITG will work with call centers, government agencies, and companies to identify those involved in making illegal calls and bring them to justice. One of the ways the group will do this is by tracking calls through telecommunications networks, terminating service providers (TSPs), and facilitators. That will help the organization determine a call’s origin and take swift action.

Operation Stop Scam Calls Targets Consent Farms

Consent farms use misleading information to collect personal data from consumers and create lead lists for telemarketing companies. This data is often supplied to robocallers to target consumers. This year, Operation Stop Scam Calls — an initiative developed by the FCC, FTC, and federal and state partners — cracked down on consent farms, with the agency proposing fines for those involved in this dishonest practice. For example, the FTC and Department of Justice sued a company for creating deceptive websites and ads that promised job interviews that didn’t exist.

20+ Voice Service Providers Possibly Removed from RMD

In the fall, the FCC said it would get rid of over 20 voice providers from its Robocall Mitigation Database for facilitating illegitimate phone calls — unless those companies changed their ways. The providers must implement robocall prevention plans based on STIR/SHAKEN or explain how they prevent robocalls if they can’t meet this standard.

STIR/SHAKEN Mandates in Full Effect

The FCC’s enhanced efforts ensure voice service providers are compliant with the STIR/SHAKEN framework, creating a safer environment for consumers and businesses. However, some companies are still not adhering to this standard, resulting in the agency removing providers from its Robocall Mitigation Database.

In November 2022, the FCC deleted the unified communications company Global UC from its database for not meeting robocall requirements. However, the agency reinstated the company in October 2023 after it entered into a compliance plan.

Rich Call Data Becomes More Popular

Rich call data is more prominent in the dialing industry as carriers comply with STIR/SHAKEN. Call originators provide this information to identify themselves to recipients, providing consumers with peace of mind when they receive a call from an unknown number. Rich call data might include a company’s name, logo, and even why someone is calling.

Top Phone Scams of 2023

The FCC’s work is far from done. Scammers are still trying to steal personal data and convince consumers to part with their hard-earned cash. Here are some of the most popular phone scams this year:

Car Warranty Scam

This fraud involves someone impersonating an auto manufacturer or dealership over the phone and persuading consumers to renew their warranty. A scammer will then ask for personal information to draw up a fake contract. The FCC issued numerous penalties to those involved in this scam this year, so hopefully, it won’t be as prevalent anymore.

Loved Ones Scam

In this scheme, a fraudster will call someone and pretend to be one of their friends or family members. The scammer might claim they are in an emergency of some kind and ask for money.

Payment App Scams

This crime involves a fraudster calling someone and impersonating a customer service rep from Venmo, PayPal, or another payment app. The scammer might ask for personal details to “reinstate” an account and then use that information to commit identity fraud.

Yes Scam

This scam is pretty simple. A scammer will call someone and ask them a question, such as, “Can you hear me?” If the recipient says yes, a fraudster can use a recording of this response to authorize a purchase with a retailer.

Carrier Impersonation

Finally, a scammer might pretend to be calling from Spectrum, T-Mobile, or another phone carrier and claim they have a special offer for a customer. Of course, no offer exists, and the scammer just wants to steal personal information.

Text Message Scams

As the FCC cracks down on robocalls, more scammers are using SMS to trick people and steal their personal information. In fact, “robotexts” have now surpassed robocalls for three years in a row. Here are some of the most popular text message frauds in 2023:

PayPal Scams

Someone might receive a fake payment request or order confirmation from PayPal by SMS and call a phone number in a text message. However, this text isn’t from PayPal but from a scammer.

Shipping Scams

This SMS scam involves a scammer impersonating a customer service rep from FedEx or another shipping company. Someone might click on one of these texts and download malware onto their device.

Free Gift Scams

Consumers might receive a text from a retailer offering a free gift. After clicking on the link in the text, a scammer might ask them to pay a small shipping fee and provide their bank details.

Amazon Security Scams

In this scam, someone receives a message they think is from Amazon. The text might ask them to verify an order they didn’t make and call a phone number to get a refund.

Netflix Payment Error Scams

A text message might claim that someone’s Netflix subscription has been placed on hold and ask them to verify their bank details.

2023 Robocall Statistics

While robocalls have been down in 2023, they are still a prevalent problem for consumers. On the other hand, SMS spam has remained relatively consistent compared to 2022 statistics based on statistics from TrueCaller’s data.

October 2023 saw, on average, just under 2 billion robocalls and 401 million spam texts, compared to 2.7 billion robocalls and 496 million spam texts in November 2022.

Robocall Countries of Origin

Interestingly enough, the vast majority of robocalls appear to originate within the U.S., showing approximately 90.66% coming domestically. Of the 9.34% originating overseas, these are the top 6 countries of origin for robocalls:

  • India 84.54%
  • Nigeria 2.6%
  • Egypt 1.25%
  • Colombia 1.22%
  • Canada 1.01%
  • Peru 0.99%

States With Highest Robocalls

While the U.S. still saw overwhelming spam calls and texts in 2023, some states experienced higher-than-average unwanted calls and messages.

Top 5 States Receiving Unwanted Calls Per Capita

  • Mississippi
  • South Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama

Total Spam Calls By State

  • Texas – 232,319,494 spam calls
  • California – 186,226,759 spam calls
  • Florida – 152,105,440 spam calls
  • Georgia – 88,072,654 spam calls
  • New York – 85,237,367 spam calls

Total Spam Texts By State

  • California – 38,619,874 spam texts
  • Texas – 31,652,389 spam texts
  • Florida – 28,757,231 spam texts
  • Arizona – 18,615,752 spam texts
  • New York – 16,294,722 spam texts

Despite all the mitigation and enforcement efforts, unwanted calls remain the FCC’s top complaint.

Ongoing Efforts to Stop Robocalls

The FCC used enhanced robocall enforcement to tackle the problem of nuisance calls in 2023. However, phone and text scams still exist, meaning the agency still has a lot of work to do. Of course, technology will evolve, allowing scammers to bypass government regulations and impact consumers and businesses. However, the FCC’s efforts this year provide hope for the future of the dialing industry. Perhaps one day, robocalls will truly be a thing of the past.