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State AGs Call Out Congress on Robocalls

Consumers received almost 48 billion robocalls last year, up 56 percent from the year before.

Consumers received almost 48 billion robocalls last year, up 56 percent from the year before. Shutterstock

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Attorneys general are urging Congress to pass legislation cracking down on spam calls.

Attorneys general from every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia signed on to an appeal urging Congress to pass legislation cracking down on robocalls and spoofing techniques that trick consumers into answering by making calls appear to come from local numbers.

“The State AGs are on the front lines of enforcing do-not-call laws and helping consumers who are harassed and scammed by unwanted telemarketing calls and robocalls,” reads the letter, sent last week to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. “Robocalls and telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints at many of our offices, as well as at both the FCC and the FTC.”

The proposed legislation, titled the “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act,” would require phone providers to use authentication technology that would determine whether a call is legitimate before patching it through to a user’s phone.

That technology—the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens, or STIR/SHAKEN—would have to be implemented within 18 months of the bill’s passage.

Dozens of attorneys general had previously appealed directly to the FCC, asking the agency to “aggressively implement” STIR/SHAKEN.

“The capability to identify illegally spoofed, scam calls will increase in proportion to the number of providers who adopt the STIR/SHAKEN protocols,” they wrote.

The bill goes a step farther, requiring that the FCC adopt rules to help shield consumers from receiving unwanted calls and text messages, increase financial penalties for fraudulent calls and establish a working group to brainstorm additional ways to stop robocalls and punish the people behind them.

Nationwide, consumers received 47.8 billion robocalls last year, up 56 percent from 2017. More than 10 billion robocalls have been placed through February of this year, totaling roughly 31 per person, while research cited by the FCC predicted that nearly half the calls placed to cell phones this year will be spam. Complaints about robocalls increased by more than 1 million in both 2016 and 2017, according to the letter.

The legislation has bipartisan support, because robocalls are an annoyance to everyone, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said in a statement.

““I don’t know a person in Mississippi who isn’t fed up with the endless amount of robocalls, and as attorney general, this is one more step I’m taking to put an end to it,” he said. “This legislation has broad bipartisan support because it’s something that is affecting everyone.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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