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Congress Approves Bill to Crack Down on Scam Robocalls

Congress Approves Bill to Crack Down on Scam Robocalls
Stateline Dec20
A call log shows suspected scam calls on a cellphone in Orlando, Florida. The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a bill designed to crack down on the annoying calls, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.
John Raoux/The Associated Press

Bowing to nearly universal loathing of scammers’ robocalls, the U.S. Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that aims to crack down on the unwanted automatic calls.

Approval came on a voice vote with no audible dissent. The House had passed the bill earlier, and the Senate action sends it to President Donald Trump, who reportedly intends to sign it.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act is Congress’ response to illegal robocalls that have proven impervious to earlier efforts to reduce or stop them.

Caller ID laws that attempted to block the calls and periodic crackdowns at the state level that imposed heavy fines on the companies making the calls served only to make the callers regroup and keep going.

“Scammers simply build the fines into the cost of doing business,” said Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a sponsor of the bill.

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Robocalls have become the No. 1 consumer complaint this year, the FCC said.

The bill would require phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers for the service and require most U.S. carriers to make sure that calls are coming from legitimate numbers. It would require the Federal Communications Commission to report to Congress about what progress is being made in the fight against illegal robocalling operations. It also ups the fines to as much as $10,000 per call.

The bill makes allowance for legitimate calls, such as notices from school districts, medical offices and airlines with flight changes.

State attorneys general say robocalls generate the most complaints to their offices. Several states have enacted laws cracking down on the illegal calls, but those laws are sometimes ineffective because the calls originate in another state or country.

Meanwhile, consumers are losing an estimated $350 million annually because of phone scams, such as requests for money to fix an immigration problem or for personal information and credit card numbers that are then used by the scammers, according to the Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

Spam calls grew to 54.6 billion in 2019, up 108% from 2018, according to Hiya, a firm that markets call-blocking and other phone software. Hiya said consumers get 14 spam calls a month on average. As a result, only 47% of incoming calls are answered, the company said.

“This is a big day for consumers in the United States,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, another sponsor of the bill, adding that its passage also bolstered bipartisanship. “There are no blue robocalls; there are no red robocalls — only despised robocalls.”

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Scam-blocking software blocks about 10% of legitimate robocalls.

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