Bipartisan Bills Introduced to End Robocalling

Inside Subprime: April 16, 2019

By Grace Austin

Several efforts to combat robocalling have been introduced with bipartisan support in Congress, as those at the state level look to fight the nuisance as well.

The Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls, or HANGUP Act, has been reintroduced by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California. The bipartisan bill would amend a Telephone Consumer Protection Act statute and a Federal Communications Commission rule that allows government contractors and debt collectors to be free from those regulations.

“The HANGUP Act ensures that government and government contractors are held to the same standard that we hold independent and private businesses,” said Lee.

Another bipartisan bill, called the TRACED Act, was also introduced in Congress this session to combat robocalling, and could increase penalties for violators.

Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Markey, who are sponsoring the bill, say they want to increase the FCC’s authority to go after those making robocalls by imposing greater fines and making sure call authentication systems are adopted. Underneath the TRACED Act, telephone providers wouldn’t be liable for blocking calls based on information provided by the call authentication systems and the bill would only target “intentional” violators.

State attorneys general across the country have come out in support of the TRACED Act.

Bloomberg said the bill “has the backing of the commission as well as both industry and consumer groups.”

That’s been the trouble in Congress with robocall bills — balancing industry interests by not over-burdening them with regulations while protecting consumers.

And those robocalls are not only a daily and growing nuisance to millions of Americans: they also can be a way for scammers to deceive consumers and take their money. Scam artists often threaten consumers with harsh consequences like jail time or penalties to get them to pay up. They often impersonate IRS or law enforcement officials and can even spoof their phone numbers to make the calls appear legitimate.

Bloomberg Government reported that Congress has failed at least a dozen times to pass legislation to end robocalling since 2015. The HANGUP Act was previously introduced twice before unsuccessfully.

State governments aren’t waiting around for federal legislation, though. Pennsylvania is working on measures to prevent robocalling. Connecticut strengthened its fines for robocalling violations in 2018 and a bill in Kentucky outlawing spoofing has now made it to the governor’s desk.

Still, it remains to be seen whether the bills will move forward and become law. And even if federal and state lawmakers do pass a robocalling bill, that doesn’t mean that scammers won’t be one step ahead with technology or be deterred by potential fines.

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