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FCC and FTC Warn Three Gateway Providers About COVID-Related Scam Robocalls

an elderly man looks at his smartphone suspiciously

Posted by Chris Alarie on Wed, 05/27/2020 - 12:43

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued letters to three gateway providers demanding that they shut off traffic to overseas robocallers whom the Commissions have identified as engaging in scam calls related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the press release accompanying the letters, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is quoted as saying, “We expect nothing less from these providers than shutting down this scam robocall traffic. These companies can access our nation’s phone networks to provide legitimate services to consumers and businesses, not to facilitate floods of scam robocalls. They need to stop this traffic and not let it back on their networks—or face losing their access to the American phone system.”

FTC Chairman Joe Simons is also quoted, specifically emphasizing the connection to the pandemic: “We never tolerate illegal robocallers, but it’s especially abhorrent when scammers exploit pandemic-related anxiety. These VoIP providers must stop allowing illegal scam calls to reach consumers.”

The press release also identifies the specific carriers and the illegal robocalls that they allowed to be transmitted via their services:

  • Fake COVID-19 Refunds.—The scam robocall says: “We cannot provide services due to COVID-19 but you have been charged $399. Press 1 to claim a refund.” RSCom of Knoxville, Tennessee and Aurora, Ontario, is a gateway provider and is currently allowing these fake COVID-19 related refund scam calls into the country from the United Kingdom.
  • Social Security Administration COVID Scam.—The scam robocall says: “This is a call from [the] Social Security Administration; during this difficult time of coronavirus, we have to suspend your SS account.” PTGi Carrier Services of Washington, DC is apparently responsible for this and another coronavirus robocall campaign, reportedly originating in Germany.
  • Loan Interest Rate Reduction Scams.—The scam robocall campaigns state: “Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be entitled to no payments on your mortgage, credit card debt or medical bills”; “Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be entitled to no payments on your student loans”; and “Due to the lockdown, we are helping people to pay with 0% interest rates.” Intelepeer of San Mateo, California is facilitating this robocall traffic from overseas.

These letters are just warnings, demanding compliance within 48 hours. The press release points out that the last time the FCC and FTC issued these sorts of letters, in April 2020, the gateway providers stopped allowing the illegal robocalls to be transmitted over their networks within 24 hours.

The FCC and FTC also issued a letter to the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group, their industry partner in identifying these sorts of dubious robocalls, thanking them for their assistance. This is consistent with the Commissions’ recent increased efforts in combatting scam robocalls that originate overseas, especially since the passage of the TRACED Act at the end of last year.