FCC solicits feedback from the public on rules to stop robotexts

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today proposed new rules to fight back against so-called “robotext” campaigns — the barrages of scam texts sent by malicious actors and large criminal organizations. In a press release, the agency said it would solicit ideas to apply caller ID technologies to text messaging and explore mandating that cell providers block illegal texts before they reach consumers.

“The American people are fed up with scam texts, and we need to use every tool we have to do something about it,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Recently, scam text messaging has become a growing threat to consumers’ wallets and privacy. More can be done to address this growing problem and today we are formally starting an effort to take a serious, comprehensive, and fresh look at our policies for fighting unwanted robotexts.”

In a notice of proposed rulemaking published this morning, the FCC suggests requiring cell carriers to block texts that purport to be from invalid, unallocated or unused numbers and numbers on do-not-originate (DNO) lists at the network level. The notice also recommends increasing efforts to educate consumers, such as steps to opt out of policies that allow companies to sell or share personal numbers.

Most FCC rules, including this one, are adopted by a process known as “notice and comment” rulemaking. The FCC gives public notice that it’s considering adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject — a notice of proposed rulemaking — and seeks the public’s comment, considering the comments received in developing the final rules.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel first proposed new rules requiring wireless carriers to block illegal texts last October. But the rules remained pending before the full Commission — the FCC’s other four members — until this week, as they moved to the next step in the notice and comment process.

Robotexts, which encompass scam texts about unpaid bills, package delivery snafus and other such deceptive scenarios, have been on the rise in recent years. Text and spam call blocker app RoboKiller estimated that consumers received over 12 billion robotexts in June, and complaints to the FCC about unwanted texts increased from 14,000 in 2020 to 15,300 last year.

The top scam texts in 2021 involved bogus delivery messages claiming to represent Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service and other organizations, according to a report from the Consumer Watchdog office of the nonprofit U.S. PIRG. Others included fake messages from banks and texts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.