Congress ready to at­tack a com­mon en­emy: Robo­callers

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY CATIE EDMONDSON

WASH­ING­TON

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.

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