March 16, 2020

Weekly Column: Shutting The Door On Telephone Scammers

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

We have heard about people in our communities, neighbors, friends, or even family, falling victim to robocall scams and losing significant amounts of money and security of their personal information.  Scammers are coming up with ever-creative ways to manipulate our open society to defraud unsuspecting victims.  These scams are out of control, and enough is enough.  Thankfully, we are getting traction on enacting legislation aimed at helping to stop illegal robocalls. 

In December, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed out of the Committee, as a substitute amendment, bipartisan legislation I introduced with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) to help stop unwanted robocalls.  S. 2204, the Data Analytics Robocall Technology (DART) Act, would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to report to Congress on the effectiveness of call blocking programs.  The bill includes provisions to ensure critical safety and emergency calls are handled properly.  This includes requiring the FCC to study the prevention of the blocking of numbers used for public safety and emergency calls, including calls by government entities; schools for school-related notifications; and similar emergency purposes, as determined by the Commission.  Text of the legislation, as passed by the Committee, can be found on my website, www.crapo.senate.gov.

The DART Act builds on S. 151, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.  The TRACED Act was signed into law on December 30, 2019.  The TRACED Act requires call authentication to prevent caller ID spoofing and increases penalties for illegal robocalls.  The Senate passed this legislation I co-sponsored with 84 senators from both sides of the aisle, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, by a vote of 97-1.  In December, the U.S. House of Representatives amended and passed the TRACED Act by a vote of 417-3 before sending it back to the Senate for final passage.  On December 30, President Trump signed the TRACED Act into law. 

The Congressional Research Service cites data indicating robocalls have risen to as high as 5.2 billion calls (both legal and illegal robocalls) in March 2019.  The FCC reports unwanted calls—including illegal and spoofed robocalls—are the agency’s top consumer complaint and top consumer protection priority. 

The FCC has taken steps to attack illegal robocalls, including actions to make it easier for phone companies to block illegal robocalls.  The agency provides recommendations and resources, including steps individuals can take to stop unwanted robocalls and avoid phone scams:

  • “Put your mobile and landline numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry.  Visit donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register.
  • Research apps, services or devices that help block unwanted calls.
  • Don't answer calls from unknown callers. That could verify you have an active line. Never call back an unfamiliar number – it may lead to a scam.
  • Spoofed caller ID numbers may trick you into answering. If you answer a spoofed call, hang up immediately.  Do not respond to even simple questions or requests.
  • Scam callers may pretend to represent an organization, business or even a government agency.  Never reveal any personal or financial information unless you can independently verify the caller.
  • FCC rules offer protection against unwanted calls and texts. File a complaint with the FCC to help us determine where to take action. Visit consumercomplaints.fcc.gov
  • Find web resources and learn more at www.fcc.gov/robocalls

Expanding the adoption of call-blocking technology while ensuring critical safety and emergency calls are handled properly can help prevent our phone lines from being hijacked by crooks.  I look forward to enactment of the DART Act and other legislative and policy changes necessary to safeguard Americans without hindering open, and importantly wanted, communication.   

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