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FCC gets tough on robocalls

The commission approves new rules that give phone companies more ammunition to fight annoying robocalls.

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Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much these days, but one thing they can rally behind is ending annoying robocalls.

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The FCC adopted rules in March 2017 that will allow phone companies to be more aggressive in blocking annoying and illegal robocalls.

Nease, MCT Graphics via Getty Images

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-0 to adopt new rules to make it easier for phone companies to stop these calls. In short, the new rules will allow phone companies to block a number if it seems bogus.

It's already against the law for marketers to call people who have placed their numbers on the federal Do Not Call List. But that hasn't stopped marketers and fraudsters from inundating Americans with automated calls. According to the FCC, American consumers received about 29 billion of robocalls in 2016 or about 230 calls for every U.S. household. And because so many of these calls are from scammers, it's costing Americans big bucks. The IRS estimates that scammers posing as tax collectors used robocalls to defraud Americans out of $26.5 million since 2013.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that unwanted robocalls are the No. 1 complaint the FCC receives from consumers.

The FCC has passed rules in the past to help curb these calls. In 2012 and in 2015, the agency adopted rules. And yet the calls persist. One of the biggest issues is that robocall callers often try to hide the actual number they're using by mimicking inactive or unassigned phone numbers in a practice known as "spoofing."

Phone companies have already tried to use technology to block known robocallers, but phone companies feared that the FCC rules, which prohibit them from blocking legitimate numbers may be too strict. So the new rules adopted by the FCC loosen those restrictions and give phone companies more leeway in identifying numbers they suspect are bogus. Specifically, the rules will allow phone companies to block calls using numbers that haven't been assigned or that simply don't exist.

"There is no reason why any legitimate caller should be spoofing an unassigned or invalid number," Pai wrote in a blog post Thursday ahead of the vote. "And providers shouldn't be sued for doing the right thing by blocking illegitimate spoofing."

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