By now, most debt collectors know about carriers’ efforts to label or block illegal “robocalls.”   The FCC provided carriers the green light to block such calls in the FCC’s July 2015 TCPA Order. There is little debate now that illegal calls can be segregated for blocking. Indeed, doing so reduces the number of illegal calls that would otherwise be completed. Likewise, there is no debate that the algorithms employed to identify such calls are not perfect, and occasionally mistakes will be made by classifying legitimate calls as illegal robocalls.

Various industry-related efforts are underway addressing mitigation procedures when such mistakes are made. Specifically, what procedures can a caller invoke when their calls are mistakenly identified and blocked by the terminating carrier as an illegal robocall? Although it seems fundamental, the first step in addressing a mistake is for the call originator to know when a particular call is being blocked.

Carriers provide various treatments when a call is blocked as an alleged illegal robocall; one common treatment is to provide busy treatment. Hence, many debt collectors have seen an increase in their busy rate or a corresponding drop in their connect rates over the last year. However, providing this type of “fake” busy treatment does not provide an accurate indication to the caller that their call is being blocked. Frequently, it can’t be ascertained for sure whether the called party is actually busy, and this leaves the caller to potentially reattempt the call again, at a later time. If the call encounters busy again, has the call been blocked? A “fake busy” indication only serves to create confusion and uncertainty.

Without accurately knowing whether a particular call is blocked, the caller is unaware whether to pursue mitigation procedures to rectify a mistakenly blocked call. It seem oxymoronic for carriers to provide procedures to correct when a mistakes occur, but not inform the caller when a mistake occurs. At least if the caller was informed the call was blocked, the call originator could investigate why it is being blocked.  Did the subscriber explicitly request this call to be blocked, or did an algorithm make this determination? Perhaps the blocking was caused by a scammer “spoofing” the caller’s number? If we accept the premise that mistakes will occur, then knowing when a call is blocked is the first step for the caller to investigate whether a potential error cause this to occur.

Providing a per-call blocking indication in the form of an intercept (a recorded audio) message should be the minimum that carriers should provide to the caller. The caller is provided with actual notice their call is blocked and can then investigate which carriers are blocking their calling party number and why. This at least allows the caller to rectify what may be a mistake or be informed if their number is being spoofed.

Some carriers do not want to inform call originators when a call is being blocked on the pretext that this will help ‘scammers’ originate illegal robocalls. We know providing a busy indication has not stopped scammers to date. Scammers continue to make calls, and they will simply spoof a different number for each call. Their effectiveness does not turn on whether an explicit intercept blocking message was returned for a particular call. But, providing an intercept message will allow legitimate callers to identify with certainty those calls they believe were erroneously blocked. It will also let the call originator know if someone else is spoofing their number and causing that number to be blocked. 

We should know exactly how our calls are being treated. If carriers do not agree to provide accurate per-call blocking information, the only solution is to petition the FCC to regulate the carriers on this matter.  Certainly, any safe harbor the FCC is considering should be predicated on carriers providing a per-call blocking indication. Let’s stop the “fake busies” now.


The opinions expressed are solely of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Noble Systems Corporation.

Editor's note: Today's focus on insideARM is about robocalls. Read this other article published today, Robocall Kingpins, and other Takeaways from the FCC-FTC Robocall Policy Forum


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