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FCC Plans to Crack Down on Robocalls

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Columbia Pictures

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Columbia Pictures)

We've all been there: You're on your way home from work, enjoying a relaxing breakfast on the weekend or about to turn in for the night, when suddenly the phone rings with an unknown number. You pick up, and some robotic voice straight from Skynet tells you that your computer is busted, wants you to vote for a certain candidate or has a time-share in the Caribbean that can be all yours.

Thankfully, that practice could be ending soon: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is as miffed with robocalls as the rest of us, and will soon take action to put severe restrictions on them.

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Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, detailed his plan in a blog post. Last year, Wheeler explained, the FCC received more than 215,000 complaints about robocalls and spam texts. As such, the chairman is proposing three rules, which should make it much harder for spammers to annoy everyday citizens, and much easier for citizens to pick up the phone with confidence.

First, the FCC will make technology that blocks robocalls legal, and recommend that telephone service providers make such measures available to their customers. From there, the FCC will redefine "autodialer" to include newer technologies, particularly those that target mobile phones.

Finally, the FCC will require that customers be able to opt-out of robocalls through very simple means. Saying "no" should suffice; consumers' won't have to fill out an entire form for each telemarketing organization. Opting out will persist, even if the phone number transfers to another customer.

Wheeler was quick to point out that certain robocalls, such as those from a customer's bank or doctor, will still be able to make it through, since it's not practical to make real people call for every account notification or medication-refill reminder. The exemptions do not apply to debt collectors or telemarketers, however.

While the FCC proposals — if accepted — have the potential to reduce predatory robocalls, the calls are not likely to stop altogether. Many robocalls are illegal to begin with, and their perpetrators are unlikely to abide by an FCC ruling. And many legal robocalls are placed from the Bahamas and Caribbean countries, which are not subject to FCC rules.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.