FCC Unwanted Call List? Not Yet

Recently, the FCC decided to publish their “informal consumer complaints about unwanted robocalls and telemarketing calls” to the interwebs.

As someone critical of government transparency, I first want to give credit where due. Releasing this information is a great step forward.

Good job!

Now, if you’re using an open source VoIP system (such as Asterisk, FreePBX, FreeSWITCH, Kamailio, etc.) it would be very easy to automatically block these numbers from reaching your phone.

As we learned from Jurassic Park…

Yeah, yeah, but your [voip engineers] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

Today, I looked at the data and crunched it against 7 years worth of calls hitting the LOD phone system. I made sure that the number at least matched the US [2-9]XX-[2-9]XX-XXXX format and filtered out the 555-555 numbers.

Running the list against my dataset resulted in a match of 1,265 calls. Sadly, many of these calls were legitimate.

Before you go and block all of these numbers, make sure you won’t want to receive any calls from FedEx, American Express, Capital One, the IRS, INS, and the Treasury Department. There’s many big name companies on this list.

If you’re going through the immigration process (as I did with my smoking hot wife), you definitely DO NOT want to block calls from the INS.

The list is a great start, but the key here is that the list has not gone through any verification or quality control.

Soon, people will just exploit this list by forging the caller id of their competitors, just to get them blocked.

It’s a good start… just not ready for prime time.

7 Comments

Ward Mundy 2015-11-03 Reply

Great article, Fred. You, of course, have pinpointed what is typically wrong with all blacklists. Invariably, you end up with some legitimate sites blocked that shouldn’t be. For people such as yourself where this is a concern, e.g. with the INS, you probably shouldn’t ever use someone else’s blacklist. Better yet, provide these agencies with a number that is not protected by the blacklist. For others that are inundated with robocalls, the FCC RoboCall Blacklist is a godsend that is long overdue.

I actually took the time to wade through some of the examples you provided of numbers which should not be on the blacklist. Most importantly, your conclusion obviously depends upon who you are. In the case of FedEx, their main customer service number (1-800-GoFedEx) is blacklisted, but none of their other numbers appear to be. I’ve received numerous calls from FedEx. None ever arrived with a CallerID of their main customer service number. Typically, you would receive a call from a local FedEx site using a local FedEx number. I suspect some robocallers have spoofed this number believing it was an easy way into your home or business. That would explain it’s appearance on the list. The UPS customer service number is not on the list by the way.

As for the credit card companies, they all have thousands of phone numbers that are used to reach customers. As with FedEx, we’ve received numerous calls from these companies over the years, and none ever arrived with a CallerID matching their main credit card support number. While it’s just an educated guess, my hunch would be that those using these numbers are probably third-party bill collectors trying to present themselves as official representatives of a credit card company. My preference would be to leave these numbers in the blacklist. But… to each his own.

As to calls from government agencies such as the IRS, INS, and Treasury Department. All of these organizations obviously have thousands of phone numbers. The fact that one or two of their numbers may have found their way onto the FCC RoboCall BlackList would not cause me to discontinue use of the list. They have “other ways” of finding you if you know what I mean.

I couldn’t help chuckling at your suggestion that the FCC RoboCall BlackList had not been properly vetted. You of all people should appreciate the manpower it would take to do that in a meaningful way. While I am not privy to the formula used to land a number on the blacklist, I suspect it takes significantly more than one complaint. Will the list be poisoned by some unscrupulous people trying to put their competition on the blacklist? Probably. Should it keep most folks from using the list to block robocallers? That’s obviously an individual decision. In my case, the answer is absolutely not.

Fred Posner 2015-11-03 Reply

Hi Ward,

Always great to hear from you! I’ll hit the big points…

In the case of FedEx, their main customer service number (1-800-GoFedEx) is blacklisted, but none of their other numbers appear to be. I’ve received numerous calls from FedEx. None ever arrived with a CallerID of their main customer service number. Typically, you would receive a call from a local FedEx site using a local FedEx number.

The calls to our system from FedEx (using 800-Go-FedEx) were legitimate. I can only talk about the ones to me personally for content, which was both regarding the shipment and receiving of packages.

If you’re getting them from the local office, that’s great. I haven’t and neither have other people on our phone system.

I suspect some robocallers have spoofed this number believing it was an easy way into your home or business. That would explain it’s appearance on the list.

I address this as a reason not to use the list. One could spoof a competitor, get them on the list, and block legitimate calls for that competitor.

That being said, in the case of FedEx, they were not robocalls, but legitimate calls.

As for the credit card companies, they all have thousands of phone numbers that are used to reach customers. As with FedEx, we’ve received numerous calls from these companies over the years, and none ever arrived with a CallerID matching their main credit card support number. While it’s just an educated guess, my hunch would be that those using these numbers are probably third-party bill collectors trying to present themselves as official representatives of a credit card company. My preference would be to leave these numbers in the blacklist. But… to each his own.

It’s not their main numbers… the list included local numbers for credit card companies as well. American Express had a bunch of numbers on the list, including the number they call you to verify activity on your card. So, if you use American Express and your preference is to use this list, if your card has suspicious activity the call from American Express will be blocked.

This is just one example. There are many legitimate numbers on this list.

As to calls from government agencies such as the IRS, INS, and Treasury Department. All of these organizations obviously have thousands of phone numbers. The fact that one or two of their numbers may have found their way onto the FCC RoboCall BlackList would not cause me to discontinue use of the list. They have “other ways” of finding you if you know what I mean.

I know you meant this jokingly, but this one… this is not a joke. If you’ve never been through the naturalization process, then you have no idea what missing a phone call can mean to your case. The numbers on this list include several INS, IRS, and Treasury numbers… and there were a few INS numbers on the list that called us personally.

Missing that call would have been a serious problem. The agencies may have thousands of numbers, but some of the ones they use for outbound are on the list.

I couldn’t help chuckling at your suggestion that the FCC RoboCall BlackList had not been properly vetted. You of all people should appreciate the manpower it would take to do that in a meaningful way. While I am not privy to the formula used to land a number on the blacklist, I suspect it takes significantly more than one complaint. Will the list be poisoned by some unscrupulous people trying to put their competition on the blacklist? Probably. Should it keep most folks from using the list to block robocallers? That’s obviously an individual decision. In my case, the answer is absolutely not.

Your call. The list is simply not ready. There’s been no vetting or verification whatsoever. The numbers I’ve caught and identified are from legitimate calls to just one phone server… that should be enough for a reasonable person to pass on the list.

Plus, anyone listed will simply use a new number. The list is simply not ready.

Ward Mundy 2015-11-03 Reply

As I noted, the simple solution for must-have calls is to provide those organizations a cellphone number or another number that is not protected by any blacklist. We’ve done this with FedEx, UPS, American Express, and other critical providers for years. That gives you the best of both worlds: important calls arrive without interruption and the dinner hour remains quiet. 🙂

Fred Posner 2015-11-03 Reply

Many of these can become public record, so I wouldn’t recommend a cell phone (plus, cell coverage where I live is not reliable).

I thank you for letting people see the suggestion, but do have a different opinion.

Michael Graves 2015-11-03 Reply

Fred,

As someone who once went through a years-long INS process, I agree with you. Moreover, what you highlight is the quintessential problem of big data….bad data.

At this point I might diverge into a thread about quantity vs quality with respect to all things governmental, but it’s early in the week and I’m not yet feeling that black-hearted.

Ward Mundy 2015-11-03 Reply

We’ve updated the Nerd Vittles article in light of Fred’s quite legitimate concerns: http://nerdvittles.com/?p=15412

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