Hospitals held for ransom by flood of robocalls: 5 details

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Robocalls are the No. 1 consumer complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission, and robocalls to hospitals are a significant portion of the problem, creating a new type of ransomware attack on hospitals and a threat to public safety.

The illegal calls flood hospital networks and are often perpetuating fraud. The nonstop flow of calls undermines hospitals' ability to perform patient care by keeping staff on phone lines unnecessarily and impairing operational capacity, according to a June 11 FCC news release.

Five details:

  1. Robocallers often use spoofed caller ID to trick hospital staff into thinking it's a real patient. Some robocalls attempt to trick hospital staff into giving up the insurance or financial information of a staff member. Hospitals have been falling victim to the intentional flooding of phone networks with multiple simultaneous calls, demanding a ransom payment in exchange for stopping the attack.

  2. The flow of calls can clog phone lines and make it difficult for patient calls to get through. One hospital received 4,500 robocalls in two hours in 2018. Another hospital had 6,500 calls with spoofed caller ID to look like internal calls and tied up 65 hours of response time of hospital staff over 90 days. This hospital also received 300 robocalls spoofing numbers affiliated with the Justice Department in an attempt to extract sensitive information from physicians. 

  3. The FCC recommends hospitals make clinicians aware of unlawful robocalls that interfere with patient care and hospital operations. The FCC encourages hospitals to create a robocall incident response plan and increase their robocall blocking and labeling offerings from their phone providers.

  4. Federal and state governments should expand efforts to prevent these fraudulent calls, such as increased call blocking and labeling tools and encouraging phone providers to cooperate with traceback requests.

  5. Communication between law enforcement and hospitals should be improved. Law enforcement should actively monitor complaints, engage in prompt outreach to providers who can assist, and coordinate traceback response among law enforcement partners.






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