Stop the un­wanted robo­calls

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE - LESLIE RUT­LEDGE Leslie Rut­ledge is the at­tor­ney gen­eral of Arkansas.

The phone rings and rings and rings. The num­ber on my caller ID looks fa­mil­iar, but I know bet­ter. It is an­other robo­call. I could scream … and I just might! Just like ev­ery other Arkansan, I just want these calls to end im­me­di­ately.

For each of the past four years, I have vis­ited ev­ery county in Arkansas, and the most com­mon com­plaint I hear is that peo­ple want these calls to stop. They are tired of the in­ces­sant and pes­ter­ing robo­calls and spoof­ing.

Spoof­ing is when a fake but fa­mil­iar-look­ing num­ber is dis­played on your caller ID that tricks you into an­swer­ing the call. And while these calls are frus­trat­ing for most, they are costly and dan­ger­ous for far too many of our fam­i­lies, friends and neigh­bors.

Hard-work­ing Arkansans who spent years sav­ing for re­tire­ment so they could travel, spoil grand­kids or buy a cou­ple of momma cows to add to their herd be­come prime tar­gets for these low-life con artists. Peo­ple with no val­ues or in­tegrity prey on those who were raised right and want to al­ways do the right thing.

These cons make ou­tra­geous claims: “I’m call­ing from the IRS be­cause you owe back taxes and law en­force­ment will be there to ar­rest you if you don’t make a pay­ment this sec­ond”; or “You haven’t paid your elec­tric bill and I’m shut­ting the lights off un­less you pay over the phone right now.” Or they take ad­van­tage of the love of fam­ily: “Grandma, this is your fa­vorite grand­child, and I am in jail out of state and you have to pay right now to get me out of here.”

As your at­tor­ney gen­eral, let me be clear: These are all scams!

Spoof­ing is il­le­gal in Arkansas, but it still hap­pens, and Arkansans feel they have no way to pro­tect them­selves. Law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­gates and pros­e­cutes these crooks rou­tinely. Un­for­tu­nately, the sheer vol­ume of spoofed robo­calls orig­i­nat­ing out of coun­try turns ef­forts to iden­tify the source into a per­pet­ual game of whack-a-mole as dif­fer­ent phone num­bers are con­tin­u­ously used. My job as at­tor­ney gen­eral is to pro­tect Arkansans, which is why I am tak­ing this prob­lem di­rectly to the providers: the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pa­nies.

Ac­cord­ing to First Orion, a call-block­ing com­pany based in Lit­tle Rock, nearly half of all cell­phone calls in the next year will come from scam­mers. This is un­ac­cept­able. Ev­ery tele­phone call passes through a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice—a “tele­com.”

Reg­u­la­tory road­blocks had pre­vi­ously pre­vented tele­coms from hav­ing the le­gal au­thor­ity to block many il­le­gal calls. In 2017, I suc­cess­fully urged the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion (FCC) to au­tho­rize tele­coms to block il­le­gal calls from in­valid num­bers, unas­signed num­bers and num­bers whose own­ers have re­quested block­ing. Tele­com ser­vice providers have the au­thor­ity to stop these never-end­ing robo­calls, but they are not tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to ver­ify whether a num­ber is valid or a spoof. Con­sumers are so fed up with these calls that they would flock to a phone com­pany that blocked all sus­pected robo­calls in­volv­ing a spoofed caller ID.

Tele­com ser­vice providers can no longer have a free pass. It’s time to put pres­sure on these com­pa­nies and de­mand ac­tion. Tele­coms must be re­quired to block spoofed calls au­to­mat­i­cally.

Block­ing spoofed calls is one part of a multi-faceted strate­gic so­lu­tion. Dur­ing this leg­isla­tive ses­sion, I am work­ing to strengthen our state laws to si­lence these calls. And I am on the 37-state Robo­call Tech­nol­ogy Work­ing Group to de­velop best prac­tices for the tele­com in­dus­try to pre­vent robo­calls and pros­e­cute the orig­i­na­tor of these calls.

I do not dis­miss the tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges in­volved in this ef­fort. Nei­ther do I di­min­ish the abil­ity of the tele­coms to iden­tify and pre­vent these calls. I will take all mea­sures nec­es­sary to ad­vo­cate on be­half of Arkansans to stop these calls and pros­e­cute those re­spon­si­ble.

This prob­lem is not lim­ited to our state. There is also leg­is­la­tion in Congress to in­crease the en­force­ment pow­ers of the FCC to deal with un­law­ful robo­calls. I will re­main on the front lines of this ef­fort, push­ing these mea­sures through Congress and to Pres­i­dent Trump’s desk. I will urge the FCC to im­ple­ment rules to re­move ob­sta­cles that would al­low tele­com ser­vice providers to use new and ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy to de­tect and block il­le­gal spoofed calls.

I am tak­ing the fight to the crim­i­nals, the tele­coms, the FCC, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and to the White House.

Arkansans are fed up, and so am I. It is time to stop the calls.

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