On November 16, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to allow telephone carriers to block robocalls as potentially fraudulent when they come from certain types of phone numbers.

According to the FCC’s press release, robocalls are the top consumer complaint submitted to the FCC, with more than 200,000 annually.  The FCC’s report also highlights a more recent phenomenon where callers are now “spoofing” – the practice of altering or manipulating their Caller ID information to hide their true identity and to trick a consumer into answering the call.  For instance, callers may create the illusion that they are calling from the IRS and defraud consumers by having them pay money that is not owed to the IRS.

The FCC has previously found call blocking by carriers to be unlawful and has allowed call blocking only in “rare and limited circumstances.”  However, the new rules permit telephone carriers to block robocalls from telephone numbers in “certain, well-defined circumstances,” including where the numbers have not been assigned to a phone carrier, are not in use, or are clearly invalid, such as those with nonexistent area codes.  The rules were adopted to further the FCC’s “goal of removing regulatory roadblocks and give [the] industry the flexibility to block illegal calls.”

The FCC’s commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, commented: “Will the adoption of today’s report and order put an end to unlawful robocalls for good?  Sadly, no, but doing nothing ensures that things will get worse.”  The report reminds all consumer-facing companies using outbound telephony that the FCC is keeping a close watch on their activities.