New agreement promises to crack down on unwanted robocalls

A bipartisan agreement between Attorneys General from all 50 states and at least a dozen major phone companies could finally put an end to unwanted robocalls.

"I pretty much don't answer," said Cynthia Yaeger, who told FOX 46 she was fed up with the unwanted calls back in 2017

According to YouMail's Robocall Index, which tracks calls, there were 166 million robocalls made in North Carolina in July.

"To many of us it's annoying," said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, speaking at a news conference in Washington. "But to others, it's their life savings."

Stein said one woman in Hickory lost $220,000 when she fell victim to a robocall sweepstakes scam. Robocalls are the number one complaint his office receives, he said.

"We owe it to the most vulnerable in our communities to do everything in our power to protect them," said Stein.

Watch Attorney General Stein's news conference here.

Stopping Unwanted Calls

Stein spearheaded the nationwide bipartisan agreement, called the "Anti Robocall Principles," which will work to block unwanted calls and go after the people making them. 

Under the agreement, phone companies will implement call blocking technology at the network level to intercept robocalls, which will be free to customers. New technology will also be used to make sure the phone numbers that shows up on your caller ID you are from the actual number that's calling you and not one that's been faked or "spoofed."

Violators will be kicked off phone networks, traced and reported to law enforcement.

"What used to take weeks, or even days, we can now do in hours to figure out who is actually generating these numbers," said Patrick Halley with US Telecom. 

Halley says a "substantial" amount of calls are generated overseas but many originate from within the United States. 

"We do this because our customers demand it," said Halley. 

Halley says sophisticated technology will still allow legitimate robocalls - for example, a pharmacy calling to say your medicine is ready or your kid's school closing - will still come through. It won't stop every unwanted call but Stein says this is a start that's getting results by bringing relief.

"Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet to putting a stop to them," said Stein. "If there were, it would have been taken care of a long time ago."

"Thanks to these prevention principles," he said, "our phones will ring less often."

Companies Signed On

Attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the prevention principles along with at least a dozen phone companies: AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Winstream.

Under the agreement, phone companies will work to prevent illegal robocalls by:

  • Implementing call-blocking technology at the network level at no cost to customers.
  • Making available to customers additional, free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.
  • Implementing technology to authenticate that callers are coming from a valid source. 
  • Monitoring their networks for robocall traffic.

Phone companies will assist attorneys general enforcement by:

  • Knowing who their customers are so bad actors can be identified and investigated.
  • Investigating and taking action against suspicious callers - including notifying law enforcement and state attorneys general.
  • Working with law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to trace the origins of illegal robocalls. 
  • Requiring telephone companies with which they contract to cooperate in traceback identification. 

"The principles offer a comprehensive set of best practices that recognizes that no single action or technology is sufficient to curb the scourge of illegal and unwanted robocalls," said Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Columbia University Henning Schulzrinne. "I hope that all parts of the telecommunication industry, both large and small, will commit to rapidly implementing these principles and work with state and federal authorities to make people want to answer their phone again without fear of being defrauded or annoyed."