The Senate has almost unanimously voted for the passage of the law that would curb the robocall problem that has plagued American households in the recent years, but one did not: Senator Rand Paul.
According to Hiya, a Seattle-based software company, a total of 26.3 billion robocalls were received by Americans in 2018, a 46 percent increase from the only 18 billion in 2017. Furthermore, complaints regarding robocalls and call spamming is the most common complaint received by both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In 2018 alone, the FTC has received more than 3.7 million complaints relating to robocalls and other telecom scams while the FCC received 232,000 complaints on unwanted phone calls that include robocalls and telemarketing calls.
That is why lawmakers are in full game to resolve the epidemic. Both the House and the Senate are working hard to hasten the passing of the different legislative efforts to stop the notoriety of robocalls in the United States. They recognize that there should be a more heightened crackdown on a problem that grew significantly higher in recent years.
Recently, Massachusetts Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, introduced the TRACED Bill (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act. The new legislation introduced by Thune would ramp up penalties for violators, put more onus on major telecom and cell service provider to address the problem and do a better job of authenticating calls, and offer ways to block neighborhood “spoofers” and other modus operandi. Neighborhood spoofing happens when scammers are tricking a caller ID into believing that a call is coming from a local area code, inducing validity to the call.
TRACED also aims to make the FCC work with the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to find ways to improve anti-robocall measures and prosecute offenders collectively. It will also require carriers to implement measures like SHAKEN/STIR to help consumers identify and authenticate callers.
“I think that I’m like everybody else that has cellphones and is constantly, constantly interrupted by these nuisance calls,” Sen. John Thune said in an interview. Friday, the bill was passed with a whopping 97-1 vote.
“There are no blue robocalls. There are no red robocalls. There are only robocalls that drive every family in America crazy every single day,” Markey told reporters, according to Roll Call. “Scammers use these calls to successfully pray on vulnerable populations like elderly Americans who are sometimes less technologically savvy.”
Implementation is the key
While it is agreeable that the new law will help curb robocalls, experts also argued that the implementation of the law is what’s vital. Currently, there are several rules that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission FTC) that are already in place, but it seems that both agencies were lagging in terms of implementing them.
A recent report made by Wall Street Journal, through an investigation, it was revealed that while the FCC has issued $208.4 million in fines against robocallers and auto dialers since 2015, less than 1% of the said value has been collected; an indication of FCC’s poor implementation of the regulations that are in place against robocallers.
The said amount in forfeiture orders includes a $120 million penalty issued on May 2018 against a robocaller that was accused of placing 96 million robocalls in three months to persuade and trick people into buying vacation packages.
According to the report, only $6,790 of the total 200-million worth of fines was collected by the agency. On their defense, FCC said that the agency lacks the authority to enforce the forfeiture orders it issued and has passed all unpaid penalties for the Justice Department to act upon. It was also revealed that the FCC only punished small time robocallers and spoofers, which means that they are at times unable to pay the full penalties.
On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission was proud of collecting 8% of the fines the agency has issued in the last 15 years. Of the $1.5 billion worth of penalties since 2004, the agency, tasked in regulating trade and commerce, was only able to collect $121 million.
“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the report wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the report said.