Consumer Watchdogs Endorse Federal Bill that Would Help Block Robocalls
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Consumer Watchdogs Endorse Federal Bill that Would Help Block Robocalls

April 18, 2016

Consumer advocates are endorsing a bill that would require phone companies to offer free robocall blocking-services and would allow consumers and state officials to sue companies that fail to provide these services to them.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumers Union are backing the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones (ROBOCOP) Act proposed by California Congresswoman Jackie Speier. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave phone companies the OK to implement these types of services, but they've been slow to act.

Legitimate companies follow state and federal laws regulating the use of robocalls. The real robocall problem is caused by dishonest businesses and scam operations that ignore these laws.

Some tools that have recently hit the market can help with blocking these kinds of calls. Nomorobo is the most common tool, which blocks calls from telemarketers while enabling permitted robocalls to come through. This is a welcome tool, but it doesn't yet work with every carrier and type of phone service.

For its part, the telecom industry is developing software that will be able to show you if the Caller ID accurately reflects who is calling.

Telecom companies have been slow to offer their own call-blocking services and at one point claimed they didn't have the legal authority to do so. The FCC last year, determined that they did and should offer these services.

The hope, writes CFA in a statement, is that a federal law would force telecom companies to offer these services more quickly.

Which Robocalls are OK

It's important to remember that not all robocalls are illegal. In general, however, a telemarketer can only make robocalls to your landline or cell phone if you gave the company written permission beforehand. In some cases, this also applies to nonprofits soliciting donations.

Some robocalls can be made without your permission. These include your pharmacy letting you know your prescription is ready, or your doctor's office confirming an appointments. Emergency calls, like those used by a Reverse 9-1-1 system are also allowed.

And much to everyone's disappointment, political calls during campaign season are also allowed. There are some exceptions to certain messages to your cell phone.

Legally, a company is required to use the Caller ID to transmit the phone number and company from which a telemarketer is calling. It's illegal for anyone to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate information, which is a common tactic among scam artists. For this reason, you should never call a company back using the number on the Caller ID. Always use one from an official source.