The two main agencies that are supposed to be helping monitor robocalls—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—halted operation 25 days ago because of the government shutdown. So how is that affecting the robocall plague?
The first noticeable change, as the Washington Post reported, was when the FTC stopped running the Do Not Call list. If you go to the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry site, you’ll see it simply says, “Due to the government shutdown, we are unable to offer this website service at this time.” This of course means it’s impossible to add a new number to the list.
But that’s a list that legitimate operations respect. The type of spammers that have been ramping up over the last couple years generally disregard that list.
Last year, a call blocker and monitor company First Orion projected that nearly half of U.S. calls in 2019 could be scam calls. But things have been looking up. In May, the FCC administered a $120 million fine to a robocall operator—the first major crackdown on such an operation. In November, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai demanded that carriers begin adopting SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited)—technologies that will help customers and providers filter out calls from numbers that haven’t been authenticated. And carriers are finally jumping on board.
But since the government has shut down, the FTC and FCC are no longer able to make moves against illegal spam call operations.
The inactivity of these agencies doesn’t seem to be having a huge effect just yet. YouMail, a company that provides a robocall blocking service and monitors robocalls, has noticed that there has not been a significant uptick in robocalls since the shutdown.“So far this month, we’re seeing robocalls roll along as the same 5 billion-ish pace we saw in Q4 [of 2018],” YouMail CEO Alex Quilici told Gizmodo, adding the caveat that their numbers have been adjusted for the holidays, which cause an early-month lull.
Quilici doesn’t expect the shutdown to affect robocalls in the immediate future. But if the FTC and FCC were closed for a while, then that would affect enforcement of regulations that have been keeping robocallers somewhat at bay.
“It’s like if you take the cops off the beat long enough, the criminals will eventually notice, and the neighborhood will start seeing more crime,” Quilici said.
YouMail has noticed one immediate difference in the type of scam that robocallers are using—scams that mention the government shutdown. He shared one recent message that the company documented:
Hello. I have an important update regarding your IRS tax debt. The recent government shut down is affecting your standing with the IRS and all those some IRS operations are down billing and collections remain active. So give me a call back at this number. I love a minute of your time to talk about how we are able to help. Thanks so much.
The FCC and FTC did not respond to a request for comment because they are closed due to the government shut down.