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Robocall ban should target texts and foreign calls, FCC chief says

Proposed new rules would extend robocall blocking to international calls and text messages.

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Robocalls could be blocked from international callers and text messages.

Josh Miller/CNET

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed another set of robocall rules, this time to ban malicious calls that spoof caller IDs in text messages and international calls. The FCC will vote on the anti-spoofing rules on  Aug. 1, and they already have the support of more than 40 state attorneys general, Pai said Monday.

These new rules would close the loopholes in targeting international callers, including one-way interconnected VoIP calls, and scammers using text messaging. They are part of the FCC's "multi-pronged approach to battle the noxious intrusion of illegal robocalls, as well as malicious caller ID spoofing," Pai said. Last month, the FCC voted unanimously on a proposal to give mobile phone companies greater power to "aggressively block" unwanted robocalls

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According to Pai, robocalls often come from overseas, with scammers spoofing their numbers to trick people into answering. "Call center fraudsters often pretend to be calling from trusted organizations and use pressure tactics to steal from Americans," he said.

The rules aim to extend the Truth in Caller ID Act to text messages or international calls as intended under the passage of the Ray Baum's Act last year.

According to the FCC, the Ray Baum's Act gave the agency the authority to broaden bans on illegal spoofing to text messages, calls originating outside the US, and calls using voice over IP. The Truth in Caller ID Act passed in 2009 already prohibits misleading or inaccurate caller ID "spoofing" with the intent to defraud for domestic callers, the agency said. But it doesn't apply to text messages or international calls. 

A senior FCC official said on a call with press that Congress needed to give explicit authority to federal agencies to allow them to police bad actors overseas. That's what the Ray Baum's Act did. The FCC's proposed regulation takes advantage of that authority.

The Federal Trade Commission has already had some success targeting domestic offenders under other statutes. In March, the FTC shut down four companies for illegally spoofing numbers to pitch debt-relief services, home security systems, fake charities, auto warranties and Google search results services. 

Update, 5:20 p.m. PT: Adds background from the FCC.