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Federal Tax

FCC Starts ‘Spring Cleaning’ by Quashing Fake Tax Relief Robocalls

Tim Shaw  

· 5 minute read

Tim Shaw  

· 5 minute read

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau launched a “Spring Cleaning” initiative to crack down on harmful robocalls and phone scams, starting with a fake tax relief program campaign that solicits sensitive personal information.

The cease-and-desist letter sent April 4 by the FCC to Delaware-headquartered Veriwave Telco LLC identified “illegal traffic” originating from the company. According to third-party robocall ID and blocking service YouMail, an estimated 15.8 million robocalls playing prerecorded messages about a nonexistent “National Tax Relief Program” occurred between November 1, 2023, and January 31, 2024.

A transcript of an example of one of the robocalls was included in the cease-and-desist letter. The scammers claim the tax relief program was “recently approved as of August 2022” and is designed to “help those struggling with tax debt.” After rattling off fake eligibility requirements, the message prompted a “yes” or “no” response. Pressing 1 connected the recipient to a live operator, who would ask for certain information like date of birth and Social Security number.

“Tricking consumers with tax season scams is just plain wrong, but we all know it remains a common ploy,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel. “While illegal robocallers continue to try to hide from us, we’ll keep seeking them out and hold them accountable for putting consumers at risk.”

To comply with the letter, which serves as a notice of “suspected illegal traffic” per FCC rules, Veriwave must immediately conduct an investigation into the calls and report back within 14 days. The burden of proof is now on the company to demonstrate why it believes it is not the originator or if the calls were not illegal, should its investigation conclude as much. Conversely, if it finds that the calls were illegal, Veriwave must certify it will block the robocalls.

Failure to follow these instructions could result in the FCC issuing a “K4 Order” that will notify “all U.S.-based voice service providers that they may be permitted to cease accepting traffic from Veriwave Telco.”

In the US, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission are the agencies responsible for regulating unwanted calls. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the FCC is authorized to enforce restrictions on automatic dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages.

new report released this month by the Library of Congress compared the regulatory frameworks implemented by 17 jurisdictions (including the US) to limit robocalls and robotexts.

The report illustrates how the FCC can work with state governments to provide “the expertise of its enforcement staff and important resources.” Washington, the report notes, is a state that has adopted “mini-TCPA” laws to further restrict robocalls. New rules adopted by the FCC on December 13, 2023, require comparison shopping websites and “lead generators” to obtain consumer consent before sending robocalls and robotexts, “one seller at a time.”

Veriwave was reminded of this in the notice. Prerecorded messages in the realm of advertisement or telemarketing are illegal without prior “written” consent (emphasis in original). According to the FCC, the company has not given any evidence of prior consent.

Leadership of other federal agencies chimed in on the cease-and-desist letter and the ongoing initiative. IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel urged taxpayers “to be extra cautious about unsolicited messages, whether by phone or text as well as avoiding clicking any links in an unexpected email.”

“These scams can occur at any time of the year, not just during tax season.”


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