Curbing ‘bad robocalls’

Act passed by the House of Representatives would put new protections in place for consumers

A new bill making its way through Congress addresses the growing problem of unwanted robocalls received by more and more cell phones in the United States. The Stop Bad Robocalls Act (H.R. 3375) adds new protections for consumers and directs telecom companies to do more in combating the issue. The act passed in the House on July 24, 429-3, and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a robocall is any phone call that when answered, plays an automated voice, rather than a live person. So why do you get so many? FTC says it’s cheap and easy for scammers and telemarketers to make robocalls over the Internet from anywhere in the world. A simple Google search of “robocalls” brings up software options to do just that.

Bill sponsor Frank Pallone (D, NJ-6) said the goal of the bill is to restore confidence in one of the most important vehicles of communication in the country. He wants to prevent scammers from hijacking that system and preventing citizens from being able to safely use their phones.

“Illegal, unwanted robocalls threaten the foundational ways that we communicate with one another, and that, in my opinion, is dangerous,” Pallone said during House debate on the bill. “Each time a consumer chooses not to pick up the phone out of fear that a scam robocall is on the other side, it chips away at our community and public safety.”

The bill directs phone companies to invest in better technology for caller ID, as current standards allow for hacking of the system by phone scammers. Scammers can fake the name and number that shows up, the FTC says, making it look like a call is from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or a local number. If someone calls you out of the blue and asks you to hand over personal information, wire money or pay with a gift card, it’s a scam.

There are some “robocalls” that are not scams, which this bill and already established law don’t address, like political messages, advisement on school closures, reminders of appointments, and more.

“Unwanted and unlawful robocalls, which were once simply a nuisance, have now hijacked consumers’ cell phones and undermined our entire phone system,” said congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1). “With Americans receiving tens of billions of robocalls a year, it’s no surprise that many Long Islanders have chosen to ignore many incoming callers, causing them to miss important phone calls about their health, their children and more. Consumers should be able to block unwanted and illegal calls and answer their cell phones without fear of being targeted for a scam.”

What the act does

 

  • Requires phone carriers to implement free call authentication technology and includes a process to help rural carriers implement this technology.
  • Allows carriers to offer call blocking services to consumers with transparency safeguards to make sure important calls aren’t inadvertently blocked.
  • Directs the Federal Communications Commission to issue rules to protect consumers from calls they didn’t agree to receive and to ensure consumers can withdraw consent.
  • Requires the FCC to enact safeguards so companies can’t abuse robocall exemptions.
  • Ensures the FCC has the authority and tools to take strong, quick action when it tracks down robocallers, including by extending the statute of limitations from one year to three or, in some instances, four years for callers violating robocall prohibitions.

 

What to do about robocalls? Here’s what your neighbors think:

 

Pat says: “I’m ready to cut my landline due to robocalls.”

 

Lynette says: “Robocalls are invasive and unnecessary. I would like to see them become outlawed although I am not sure they can be stopped. I keep blocking such calls on my cell phone and the same number calls me back again and again.”

 

Gabrielle says: “Must go away except from people you actually are doing business with, like your reminder/confirm [appointments], or prescriptions. What really is bad is that the caller ID shows up as if it is phones in your area. That is hacking, and has to [be] criminal somehow.

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