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Frosh announces joint effort to combat illegal robocalls

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh xxxxxx (File photo)

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (File photo)

A coalition of 51 attorneys general and 12 phone companies have agreed to a set of principles to fight illegal robocalls, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General announced Thursday.

All 50 states and Washington D.C. were involved in the bipartisan effort and companies including AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon signed on, according to a news release.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said robocalls are the number one complaint offices like his get across the country. Robocalls are made with an autodialer and contain a message made with a prerecorded or artificial voice, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“The goal of many of the individuals making these calls is to steal your identity or steal your money,” Frosh said in a statement. “These annoying and relentless calls are difficult to track and difficult to prosecute.”

Consumer fraud cases often originate with robocalls, according to the document outlining the principles, and phone service providers can assist attorneys general by implementing the agreed-upon policies.

The companies have committed to implementing call-blocking technology at no cost to customers, making free tools available, implementing authentication technology and monitoring network traffic. They will also help identify and investigate customers who are making robocalls, take action against suspicious callers, work with law enforcement to trace origins of illegal calls and require contractors to cooperate in tracing calls.

“The principles announced today will help prevent these calls and provide law enforcement with the information needed to track down and prosecute those making illegal robocalls,” Frosh said.

The principles constitute “a comprehensive set of best practices,” according to Henning Schulzrinne, a professor at Columbia University quoted in the release. The agreement recognizes “no single action or technology is sufficient to curb the scourge of illegal and unwanted robocalls,” Shuulzrinne said.

In November 2017, the FCC issued an order allowing voice service providers to block certain calls without violating call completion rules, according to an FCC report. After allowing the industry to test blocking calls spoofing IRS phone numbers, the number of IRS scam calls dropped and the technology has been widely implemented to block invalid originating phone numbers.

The FCC concluded in February that robocall volume remained high and may be increasing. There were 232,000 consumer complaints to the FCC in 2018 and nearly 3.8 million robocall-related Do Not Call complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.

The organization YouMail tracks robocall volume in the U.S. and estimated 47.8 billion robocalls were made nationally in 2018, according to the FCC report. YouMail does not differentiate between legal and illegal robocalls.

The FCC characterized the remaining challenges of illegal robocalls as work required by the industry from network upgrades to expanded call blocking, some of which are mentioned in the attorneys general principles.

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