Can the FCC proposals helpPhone Scams, which we’ve discussed before in detail, are among the most common types of scams consumers encounter. Since unwanted calls, including illegal robocalls and telemarketing calls, tops the list of the FCC’s consumer complaints, the commission has continued to devote resources to combat the problem. Last week, the agency unveiled a set of criteria for blocking unwanted calls in a document called the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), that it hopes to turn into future FCC rules/goals for telecom services to follow. Because phone scams are a huge issue — topping the BBB’s list of the top 10 scams and taking the No. 2 spot on the IRS’ Dirty Dozen Tax Scams List — we’re digging into the FCC’s proposals and what they might mean for consumers.

What is the FCC seeking to address?

The FCC hopes to provide consumers with substantial protections against illegal robocalls, something we’ve warned about before, and malicious spoofing, a tactic similar to website spoofing, where the scammer calls under the guise of a legitimate phone number, so the caller ID displays a trustworthy name, but a scammer is actually on the other side of the phone line. Both are key tactics in the typical phone scammer’s arsenal, as they allow circumvention of Do Not Call registries because they help mask a caller’s identity. Over the past several years, the FCC has begun laying the groundwork for addressing this issue. In 2015, the FCC passed a ruling that clarified the powers telecommunications companies have in addressing consumers’ requests to block certain types of calls. In 2016, the FCC began working with a telecommunications industry task force, which is called the Robocall Strike Force, to develop countermeasures against phone scams and unwanted calls. Some of the suggestions offered by this task force were taken into consideration by the FCC and have influenced the language surrounding the agency’s current proposals.

What types of rules is the FCC considering?

In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the FCC spells out the several criteria it’s reviewing for its proposed rules. Here’s what you should know:

1 . The FCC is seeking input from stakeholders regarding certain proposals. It’s important to note that because the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry, the proposals in this document are tentative. This type of documentation is usually used to solicit feedback from vested parties, like the Robocall Task Force and telecom providers. Two very critical areas where the FCC is requesting clarification from telecom experts include determining the exact definition of illegal robocalls and whether or not international calls should be subject to these rules. This is important because the FCC and telecom companies need to balance security with privacy while not making it any more difficult for legitimate calls to reach their destination. Input on these aspects will likely change the scope of any rules the FCC will actually enact down the line.

2. The FCC suggests that unassigned and otherwise invalid phone numbers be automatically blocked. The FCC is interested in codifying rules regarding a Do-Not-Originate system, which will reject calls that fail to meet certain criteria. Scammers often forge or spoof their caller IDs to make it seem like they’re calling from a local or U.S. number — hence the term “call spoofing” — but in some cases, these fake numbers don’t follow rules laid out by the current telephone system and aren’t phone numbers owned by the scammer. Codifying rules around dealing with this abuse would empower telecom providers to automatically block calls from some numbers, like those which are actually invalid under the North American Numbering Plan (the system used to assign phone numbers in the U.S.) or those not currently allocated by any existing telecom service. Since this would happen automatically, the hope is that consumers will not have to opt-in or reach out to their provider to benefit from this feature –something they have to do now.

3. The FCC is seeking input on methods of recourse for legitimate callers who are blocked. While the FCC doesn’t anticipate a large number of false-positives, it wants to set in place systems, such as a whitelist and an intake process, for complaints which will allow legitimate callers who have been blocked — perhaps their number was spoofed by a scammer — to have options for correcting the issue.

Why does this matter?

While content in a NPRM is far from being law, it provides a good glimpse into the thought process of the agency which produced it. These documents often allow us as consumers to see how the agency views the problems it’s addressing as well as the steps it might take to do so. In this case, the FCC’s NPRM reveals that, while the FCC sees phone scams as a severe nuisance and wishes to take strong and urgent action, it understands that addressing the issue will require a fine balance between security, privacy and transparency. In addition to sharing the agency’s intentions with the public, the NPRM also allows anyone to comment on it and provide feedback directly to the agency which issued it. If you’re interested in doing so, the FCC has highlighted its process for commenting on its NPRM here.

While phone scams remain a persistent problem, you don’t have to fall victim to them. Have a look at some of our other posts on phone scams to see how you can protect yourself. Since scammers are looking for ways to take advantage of their victims anyway they can, you may also want to take a look at our scams blog to learn about the various tactics fraudsters might try to use on you.