Robocall Strike Force: Trial of one technique cut IRS scam complaints 90%

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An initial progress report by the FCC-sanctioned and industry-led Robocall Strike Force this afternoon was highlighted by the claim that a trial of a single fraud-prevention technique had resulted in a 90 percent reduction in consumer complaints about scams involving automated phone calls falsely claiming to be from the IRS.

Since the first meeting of the strike force in August, representatives from 30 companies held more than 100 meetings and produced a 47-page report detailing both their short-term accomplishments and future goals. And while the latter outweighed the former – a point emphasized by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler – there was a hopefulness expressed throughout the hour-long presentation that relief from the scourge of robocalls is on the way.

The brightest signal involved a trial implementation of what’s called a “Do Not Originate” list, in other words phone numbers that are allowed to receive calls but not make them. A common technique used by robocall fraudsters is to spoof legitimate phone numbers such as IRS 800-numbers to convince call recipients they are speaking to the genuine article. When the IRS provided the strike force with a list of such numbers and participating carriers began limiting those numbers to incoming calls only, there was a dramatic 90% drop-off in consumer complaints about IRS-related scam attempts.

“The trial worked,” said Wheeler. “It is now time to expand that trial to make it the real deal.”

Noting that only 10% of consumers today take advantage of existing technologies and methods for controlling robocalls, the strike force also announced the launch of a new website – www.fcc.gov/unwanted;calls – that will serve as a clearinghouse for such information.

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In addition, progress was reported in terms of accelerating standards work necessary to implement robocall blocking and tracebacks, as well as better sharing of information between the various parties involved. Regulatory and liability issues surrounding robocall blocking were also addressed.

The strike force is to meet again in six months to take stock of its progress.

(UPDATE, Oct. 27: While not mentioned in yesterday's presentation, there may be another reason that IRS impersonation scams are down: The Department of Justice just announced charges against 61 people for their alleged involvement in such schemes.)

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