Regulators give phone companies new tools to fight robocalls

FILE - In this May 4, 2018, file photo a man talks on the phone in a hallway adorned with the palm tree-printed wallpaper at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. New tools are coming to help fight robocall scams, but don’t expect unwanted calls to disappear. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE - This Aug. 1, 2017, file photo, shows a call log displayed via an AT&T app on a cellphone in Orlando, Fla. New tools are coming to help fight robocall scams, but don’t expect unwanted calls to disappear. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

NEW YORK — The Latest on fighting robocalls (all times local):

11:15 a.m.

Federal regulators are giving phone companies the right to block unwanted calls without getting customers' permission first.

Thursday's vote by the Federal Communications Commission could make call-blocking widespread and help consumers dodge annoying robocalls.

The agency expects phone companies to offer these tools for free. But it doesn't require them to do so. Consumers can also "opt out" and ask their company not to block anything.

As the robocall problem has exploded, Congress is taking steps, too. A bill passed by the Senate would require phone companies to do more, but it's not a cure-all. It still needs House approval, where Democrats in charge have their own bills that go further.

Even if all steps work, there are already concerns that scammers will figure out how to bypass them.

3 a.m.

Is the world getting safer from robocalls? It's not clear.

The Federal Communications Commission plans to vote Thursday on giving phone companies permission to do more against them, but they aren't requiring it — yet.

A bill passed by the Senate would mandate next steps companies must take — but it's not a cure-all. And it needs House approval.

There are already concerns that scammers can outwit the latest moves in the arms race.

The robocall problem has exploded because cheap software makes it easy to make mass calls. Phone scams have cost victims millions of dollars. Enforcement against illegal callers is negligible.

New tools are coming to fight robocalls, but don't expect unwanted calls to disappear entirely.

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