August 05, 2019

Weekly Column: Ending Robocall Scams

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Nearly everyone has received those calls in the middle of dinner, in the middle of getting kids to sleep or in the middle of trying to finish a project.  We stop what we are doing.  We hurry to answer the phone only to hear a long pause followed by an automated voice trying to defraud us of our money.  The calls are beyond annoying.  They are invasive and can be financially destructive.  Legislation I am backing would help end what are known as robocall scams. 

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service described robocalls as “any telephone call that delivers a prerecorded message using an automatic (computerized) telephone dialing system  . . .  The majority of companies who use robocalling are legitimate businesses, but some are not.  Those illegitimate businesses may not just be annoying consumers—they may also be trying to defraud them.”

The problem is growing as scammers shift to new tactics.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warned about “one ring” robocall scams explaining some scammers use “one ring” calls from what appear to be somewhere in the United States to try to get people to return the call.  The FCC advises not to return a call from a number you do not recognize, as this could risk being connected to a phone number outside the U.S. and being charged a fee for connecting along with significant per-minute fees for as long as the individual remains on the phone. 

The FCC suggests those who are unable to resolve bills from these types of scams with their telephone company directly can file a complaint with the FCC at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us.  In addition, those who are victims of international phone scams can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.  The FCC is also taking steps to attack illegal robocalls, including actions to make it easier for phone companies to block illegal robocalls and more difficult for scammers to reach potential victims.

In response to Idahoans contacting my office with concerns regarding robocalls, I am working to get to the root of the problem by introducing S. 2204, the Data Analytics Robocall Technology (DART) Act.  This bipartisan legislation, which I introduced with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), would establish a pilot program at the FCC to expand its efforts to combat robocalls by blocking calls that fail authentication technology and procedures used to prevent caller ID spoofing, while allowing emergency service alert calls to remain uninterrupted and not expanding the capabilities of voice service providers to collect or share data.  S. 2204 would also provide a pathway for appeals for calls unintentionally blocked that might be otherwise allowable under law. 

This legislation would build on legislation the Senate passed in May by an overwhelmingly, bipartisan vote of 97-1 to hold those who participate in robocall scams accountable.  S. 151, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which I co-sponsored with 84 senators from both sides of the aisle, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, would require call authentication to prevent caller ID spoofing and increase penalties for illegal robocalls.  However, the TRACED Act did not allow for blocking of calls that fail the authentication.  The DART Act I introduced would bridge this gap by enabling the testing of options for combatting unauthenticated robocalls. 

The FCC reports unwanted calls are by far the biggest consumer complaint the Commission receives.  We all have too much happening to put up with illegal robocalls.  I am encouraged this problem is getting broad, bipartisan attention and look forward to the implementation of sound policy to help end this invasive drain on time and resources.   

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