By Patrick Varine

Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection, according to a coalition of 34 state attorneys general.

The coalition, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on Tuesday called for the Federal Communications Commission to create new rules to allow telephone service providers to block more illegal robocalls being made to unsuspecting consumers in Pennsylvania and across the country.

The formal comment to the FCC explains that scammers found ways to evade a call-blocking order entered last year by the FCC, following legal action led by Shapiro and other attorneys general.

Despite the FCC's order, robocalls continue to be a major irritant to consumers in Pennsylvania and across the United States. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 4.5 million illegal robocall complaints, two-and-a-half times more than in 2014. The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection receives thousands of complaints each year with respect to illegal calls, including scam calls, telemarketing complaints, and robocalls.

Following an initial win for prosecutors last year, when the FCC granted phone service providers authority to block certain illegal spoofed robocalls, law enforcement officials are seeking added authority for the providers to work together to detect and block more illegal spoofed robocalls -- including "neighbor spoofing."

"Spoofing" allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to prosecute.

"I'm taking new action with my colleagues to continue the fight to protect Pennsylvanians and Americans from these bothersome and illegal robocall scams, which are used to scam seniors and other vulnerable populations," Shapiro said. "As attorney general, I take seriously my role to protect consumers from scams of all kinds. The FCC should create new rules to let telephone service providers block more types of illegal robocalls."

The new initiative would give phone service providers the ability to authenticate legitimate calls and identify illegally spoofed calls so they can be blocked. It also would allow service providers to use new technology to detect and block illegal spoofed calls -- even those coming from what are otherwise legitimate phone numbers. Service providers will be ready to launch this new authentication method in 2019, according to a release Shapiro issued Tuesday.

To date, the FCC has not issued a notice of proposed rule-making concerning additional provider-initiated call blocking.

(c)2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)