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Our view: Good news in battle vs. robocalls

Herald editorial board

Thank you, Federal Communications Commission, for the recent effort to thwart the illegal telemarketers who repeatedly call with offers and scams.

Last week, the FCC gave its largest fine ever to a Florida man who evidently is responsible for more than 96 million — yes, 96 million — unwanted telephone calls in the United States. His name is Adrian Abramovich and the FCC ordered him to pay $120 million in fines.

Abramovich's firm has been linked to those 96 million calls, and they came during a single three-month period. It blows the mind to think of the scale of such an operation.

In a perfect world, the national Do Not Call list, created in 2003, would end these problems. But many telemarketers today choose to take their chances and call anyway, while many others are based overseas and simply don't care. Worse, they now often use an illegal process called a "spoof" — using false identification information — to trick phone owners into answering. For example, Abramovich employed spoofed caller IDs, using local area codes and even the first three digits of local phone numbers to disguise his company's identity. Sometimes, the companies use legitimate phone numbers of unsuspecting phone owners, which creates all sorts of troubles for those people.

Some phone owners get calls every day, seeking approval of new credit rates, a vehicle warranty or falsely being told they have an outstanding debt with the IRS.

CBS News recently reported there were 2.5 billion robocalls made in April alone. It's on the rise — up 9 percent from the same month in 2017.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was quoted in the report, saying he is working on cracking down on robocalls, which constitute the No. 1 complaint at the FCC. As a result, the FCC has organized a "robocall strike force" that is focused on fixing the issue.

The government needs to step in because it's not only a nuisance, but it's costing Americans millions in bilked dollars. The elderly are especially susceptible.

Here's an idea: Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said phone companies should offer call-blocking technology at no cost to their consumers. When CBS asked Pai if he agrees, he said he is open to the idea.

"In some cases, we don't have the authority to mandate something," he told CBS. "But from a consumer perspective, I think it's a good idea."

So do we.

The FCC is where it begins. The phone companies should be involved, too. Until then, we hope the new FCC strike force continues to make headlines, something like Eliot Ness and his "Untouchables" back in the 1920s and '30s.

In the meantime, here is some advice: Don't answer phone numbers that you don't know. Don't give out any personal information. Don't press buttons during a robocall. Don't agree to exchange funds over the phone. Don't speak, and especially don't ever say "yes" to any question — even if they ask "Can you hear me?"

And finally, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.