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Stopping Illegal Robocalls Where They Start

FCC Says Neighbor Spoofing Is Illegal

Last fall I posted, “Shouldn’t Neighbor Spoofing Be Illegal? Wait! It Already Is!” Most telecom experts think that if a telephone number is assigned to you, or you have the permission of the assignee, it is perfectly fine to use that number as your caller-ID when placing calls.

But the Truth In Caller-ID Act does not say that. It says that the caller-ID cannot be “misleading or inaccurate” and makes no reference to whom the number is assigned.

A recent order from the FCC makes this exact point. Following on an extensive investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the FCC this month has been cracking down on a cartel involved in placing billions of nefarious auto warranty calls. In their order issued July 21 they write (at paragraph 8):

The calls apparently also were made with the intent to violate the TCPA and the calls displayed inaccurate or misleading caller identification, with an apparent intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain something of value, in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act and section 64.1604 of the Commission’s rules. Specifically, the Cox/Jones/Sumco Panama Operation purchased nearly 500,000 numbers from at least 229 area codes in November and December 2020 apparently to make the calls appear to consumers as if they were originating locally. The Bureau determined that approximately 75% of FCC complaints which listed caller ID pertained to numbers that matched the consumer’s area code, belonged to area codes adjacent to the consumer’s area code, or belonged to an area code in the same state. The matching originating and destination numbers in consumer complaints support a finding of deliberately transmitting misleading caller ID similar to so called “neighbor spoofing.”

“Law-abiding” callers should take note. Even if you have paid to get banks of telephone numbers officially assigned to you, you may still be in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. The FCC is saying that making it look like you are calling from a location different from your own is not OK.

If you are calling to conduct a survey or provide a notification of some kind or solicit interest in some product or service (even with consent), play it safe by using a single caller-ID value for each campaign. Using phone numbers that purposefully mislead the called party into thinking that the call is coming from someplace it is not (to improve your answer rates and/or sidestep robocall analytics algortithms) can clearly get you in trouble, even if you purchased those numbers.

Before you carry on with neighbor spoofing (or the more general practice of spreading calls across a set of unrelated caller-IDs, called snow-shoeing), I suggest you consult with your qualified telecommunications regulatory attorney and ask about the impact of the text in this latest FCC Order. I’ll offer that same advice to any service provider that is permitting their customers to place calls using this practice, and to providers that make telephone numbers available to customers for use this way.

Violations can get expensive. 47 U.S. Code § 227(e)(5)(A)(i) says: “The amount of the forfeiture penalty determined under this paragraph shall not exceed $10,000 for each violation, or 3 times that amount for each day of a continuing violation, except that the amount assessed for any continuing violation shall not exceed a total of $1,000,000 for any single act or failure to act.”

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