The government’s fight against robocalls

If you have a phone, then chances are you’ve received at least one unsolicited robocall — likely more.

“Congratulations! You’ve won an all-expenses paid vacation.” Or, “Alert to the vehicle owner, your loan is set to expire.” You know the sound and the experience — a recognizable number calls and you pick up realizing that the robot on the other end doesn’t actually have your next vacation planned.

This experience is not unique.

One Minnesota resident, Rosey, who moved from Iowa many years ago, says she often gets calls from local area codes in Iowa. Robocallers are hoping that she’ll pick up.

Over half of all Americans report getting more than one robocall per day and more than 93% said they get at least one per month.

In 2018, the number of robocalls to Minnesota households doubled. And just last month, there were 5.6 million calls made to the 651 area code alone. That’s an average of over 186,000 robocalls every day. There are few things more annoying than when your phone rings and you hear a recorded voice on the other end trying to sell you something, or worse, scam you out of your hard earned money.

We all know what it’s like to have family dinners interrupted by these unwelcome calls. And it’s probably why unwanted robocalls and telemarketing spoofs are the top consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. Last year, the FCC received 232,000 complaints regarding robocalls, and the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.7 million robocall complaints.

These robocalls aren’t just unwanted and disruptive —  most are illegal. New technology has enabled scammers to “spoof” or alter their phone numbers so that the calls appear to be local, making them nearly impossible to recognize or track. Worse still, they often target seniors who are particularly susceptible to these scammers, which has led, in extreme cases, to the loss of entire life savings.

We need robocall legislation that is as sophisticated as the people trying to scam us. That’s why I’ve been working to shut down robocallers. Just this May, legislation aimed at better protecting consumers and increasing robocall penalties against fraudulent telemarketers that I cosponsored passed the Senate. But we still have more work to do. That’s why I recently introduced the Deter Obnoxious, Nefarious, and Outrageous Telephone (DO NOT) Call Act, legislation that will strengthen penalties against scammers by increasing fines and adding criminal liability to deter this illegal conduct.

While Congress plays a critical part in deterring robocalls, federal agencies play significant roles as well. Last month, the FCC made an important new ruling to help protect consumers from robocalls by allowing carriers to block them. This means that consumers should receive fewer annoying, unwanted and potentially fraudulent calls. Also, the Federal Trade Commission announced a new crackdown on illegal robocalls which included nearly 100 cases targeting operations around the country that are responsible for more than one billion robocalls pitching a variety of products and services including credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities and medical alert systems. 

While these are promising steps, we still must make sure we are protecting consumers’ choice and ensuring that the price of using these call-blocking technologies does not get passed on to the consumers. I will continue to work to pass legislation that will better protect Minnesotans from these unsolicited calls.

We can and must do more to protect consumers from illegal robocalls and crack down on the scammers responsible for them. It’s time to stop them once and for all.

 

Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.

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