FCC, FTC tell service providers to cut off COVID-19 scam robocalls

Otherwise, the companies will face "serious consequences," the agencies say.

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Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Abrar Al-Heeti
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Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai demanded robocall-enabling service providers block COVID-19-related international scammers.

Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday demanded gateway providers cut off traffic from COVID-19-related international scammers or "face serious consequences." The scam robocall campaigns include false service refunds related to COVID-19 and fake calls about Social Security accounts being suspended during the pandemic.

"We expect nothing less from these providers than shutting down this scam robocall traffic," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a release.  "These companies can access our nation's phone networks to provide legitimate services to consumers and businesses, not to facilitate floods of scam robocalls. They need to stop this traffic and not let it back on their networks -- or face losing their access to the American phone system."

The agencies sent letters giving the companies 48 hours to terminate these scam robocalls. If they don't, the FCC said it expects domestic providers will start blocking all calls from them. "The FCC and FTC will also consider other enforcement steps should the companies not comply," the release says.

The FCC and FTC also wrote to broadband association USTelecom, asking its members to start blocking calls from the providers if the high volume of robocalls isn't cut off within 48 hours. 

The agencies sent similar letters last month that ultimately put an end to other robocallers' access to US phone networks. The letters also led three gateway providers to stop allowing COVID-19-related scam robocalls within 24 hours. The FCC says it's continuously monitoring those providers in case they begin allowing that kind of traffic again. 

"We never tolerate illegal robocallers, but it's especially abhorrent when scammers exploit pandemic-related anxiety," FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in the release. "These VoIP providers must stop allowing illegal scam calls to reach consumers."

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