Robocall Strike Force set to take wraps off battle plan

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Two months after accepting its marching orders, the federal Robocall Strike Force chaired by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and featuring industry heavyweights such as Verizon, Google and Apple, will tomorrow make public its plan for dramatically reducing the torrent of automated phone calls.

“The Robocall Strike Force is an industry-led group which has been working to develop comprehensive solutions to prevent, detect, and filter unwanted robocalls,” says the FCC.  “Robocalls and telemarketing calls are the number one source of consumer complaints received by the FCC.  However, giving consumers meaningful control over the calls and texts they receive requires collective action by the industry.”

“This scourge must stop,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the first task force meeting back in August.

While consumer advocates have welcomed the coordinated effort, some have expressed concern about the willingness and ability of such a diffuse industry to effectively follow through on a plan. In addition, there is worry that attempting to block unwanted robocalls will result in also blocking calls that consumers want.

While annoyance with robocalls is at an all-time high, an underreported aspect of the plague has been the criminality it enables. Robocalls are more often than not pitching nothing but scams. And the Federal Trade Commission estimates that four of five telemarketing scams are directed at people 65 and older.

Meanwhile, there are products available right now to help consumers ward off the unwanted calls. Here’s a roundup of five of the most popular options.

Makers of these private solutions complain that their effectiveness is stymied by a lack of cooperation from the carriers, an issue that will presumably be addressed by the task force.

Though obviously not sufficient to stem the torrent of unwanted robocalls, the FCC has assembled a set of tips for mitigating the problem.

While not a viable solution for most, an unlisted telephone number can help reduce robocalls, in my experience. However, if you want to go that route, you’ll have to swallow the indignity of paying a $5 monthly fee that carriers impose despite no compelling justification.

Tomorrow’s 1 p.m. meeting will place AT&T’s Stephenson and FCC chairman Wheeler in the same room at a time when AT&T is expected to need FCC approval for its just-announced $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

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