Congress ready to attack a common enemy: Robocallers
Rep. Darren Soto’s phone rang just a halfhour into this week’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the surge of robocalls clogging the nation’s cellphone lines. He ducked off to take the call only to hear a recorded voice float a lucrative offer to buy his home.
“We’re all being inundated,” Soto, D-Fla., said plaintively when his turn came to speak at the hearing.
Bipartisanship may be in short supply in the 116th Congress, but Republicans and Democrats have found a common enemy. Swamped by complaints from peeved constituents – and tormented themselves by an onslaught of pesky and fraudulent calls – lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in both chambers are promising action to halt the influx of automated calls.
Bipartisan, bicameral bills would hold robocallers legally liable for the frauds they are pushing, impose stronger penalties on phone scammers and make telecommunications companies disclose and verify the origin of incoming calls.
“Whenever people come up to me at home, there’s two things they tell me,” Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., said. “They say, ‘Support the president.’ The second thing they say is, ‘When are you going to do something about these robocalls?’”
Americans received 48 billion robocalls last year, and unsolicited dials are expected to make up almost half of all calls that Americans receive by the end of 2019, according to YouMail, a service that collects and analyzes calls through its robocall blocking service. Only a fifth of those calls are considered legitimate automated alerts, like a reminder of an upcoming appointment from a doctor’s office.
Attempts to defraud Americans through automated calls have grown more prevalent and more sophisticated. Robocallers can generate telephone numbers that mask their location, adopting area codes that mimic the neighborhood of the recipient, making it more likely people will answer. Some scammers have gone so far as to mimic hospital telephone numbers as a guise to ferret out sensitive patient information.
Irked by the bipartisan harassment, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are teaming up to pass legislation that will allow fraudulent callers to be held responsible. In the House, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., who leads the Energy and Commerce Committee, is shepherding a package of legislation that would impose stronger penalties on phone scammers and require telecom providers to adopt authentication tools to enable phone carriers to disclose and verify the origin of an incoming call.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Pallone said. “That’s why it is so important that we address this problem from every side.”
He will find support on the other side of the Capitol from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who partnered with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Edward J. Markey, DMass., to introduce similar legislation.