FCC allows fraud alerts on cellphones

No opt-in needed under new rule

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission toughened rules against robocalls and spam text messages  to cellphones Thursday, but opened an exception for banks to send warnings about suspected fraud on your credit card account.

The American Bankers Association called the exception a win for consumers.

"Text messages and calls to mobile phones can reach people wherever they are," the ABA said in a statement, "enabling customers and financial institutions to react promptly to stop fraudulent transactions and respond to data security breaches."

The U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act forbids nonemergency automated calls to cellphones without the user's explicit, prior consent. Unwanted text messages are also barred, as are prerecorded calls to wireline phones.

Lawsuits under the act have resulted in multimillion dollar court awards against corporations, and that has hindered banks' ability to communicate with accountholders, according to the bankers' group.

Under the exception for "urgent circumstances" outlined Thursday, the FCC said free calls or texts about possible fraud, or other important account information, are permitted without prior consent.

The exception also covered urgent messages about refills of important medication.

Marketing or debt collection communications are still prohibited without prior consent, the FCC said. In addition, accountholders still have the right to opt out of receiving urgent messages.

"[C]onsumers have the right to opt out from these permitted calls and texts at any time," the agency said.

Through a series of declaratory rulings, the FCC also cleared the way for service providers to offer robocall-blocking technology, and clarified that consumers have the right to revoke their consent for automated messages "in any reasonable way at any time." That means companies cannot set up artificial barriers to revoking consent.

The orders also affirmed a broad definition of the autodialing equipment covered by the law, the FCC said, blocking attempts to skirt the rules by tweaking phone technology.

As a whole, the rulings give consumers more say in the communications that reach them. "Today I support balance," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn wrote on Twitter. "Lawful communications to consumers and consumer freedom from unwanted robocalls."

The agency received 215,000 complaints about unwanted calls in 2014, the largest category of complaints.

Earlier story: FCC considers allowing fraud alerts on cellphones

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Updated: 02-18-2019