Combating robocalls

Posted on May 15, 2018 10:40 am CDT

By Congressman Billy Long,

Each week my staff and I hear from frustrated constituents about the number of robocalls they receive. Robocalls are pre-recorded, computer-generated phone calls that are often unsolicited sales calls and scams. The most frustrating part is that these calls weren’t always intended to be salacious. Robocalls have been used for years to inform people of relevant information, such as upcoming doctor's appointments or school closing announcements. Sadly, some individuals have found a way to abuse the system and force unwanted calls on people.

According to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, robocalls rank among the top complaints from consumers. Although it’s a top priority for both agencies to fix this issue, problems remain. From 2013 to 2017, consumers' complaints to the FTC increased by 106 percent.

Over the years, there have been numerous efforts to address this issue. In 1994, the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act was signed into law. This legislation is used as the primary statute that allows the FTC to regulate telemarketing calls, which is a type of call that is deceptive, invades a person’s privacy or is unsolicited. Along with this bill, the FTC has also taken legal action against companies, amounting in millions of dollars being recouped. Just recently, the FTC announced that it would start sharing complaints it receives with telecommunications companies to help better block unwanted calls.

As technology continues to evolve, so do methods for illegal robocalls. Previously, scammers' calls would be able to show up as unknown, blocked or even use fake ID information to trick consumers. Now, scammers can go as far as falsifying caller ID information to trick consumers into thinking the call is coming from their area code. This is known as neighbor spoofing. In July 2017, this type of robocall made up 18 percent of all robocalls, compared to the previous year when it was just 4 percent.

The problem with illegal robocalls calls isn’t just that they are annoying, they are also causing significant financial consequences for individuals. According to the FTC, fraud from these calls adds up to $9.5 billion annually. People, specifically senior citizens, are being targeted for these calls and handing over sensitive information, such as personal and financial.

While the FTC is ramping up its enforcement, consumers also have a variety of options to help protect themselves against these calls. For starters, consumers can register their landline or cellphones with the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. Although this won’t help with unwanted illegal calls, it will help crack down on the unwanted calls by legitimate companies. Another option for consumers is call-blocking. They can either contact their wireless provider or use features on their phones to block specific numbers.

The Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a hearing on this topic. We had stakeholders in the industry come and testify about the importance of prioritizing this issues and ways we can help consumers protect themselves. I will continue to work with the committee and my constituents to address these concerns. As technology continues to evolve, so will our approach to this pressing problem.

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