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Robocalls: Time to Fight Back

Legislation proposed to curb robocalls

Don't you just love it when your cellphone rings when you're in the middle of another conversation and when you click on it, a recorded voice says, "Hello, this is your last opportunity to extend the service warranty on your car," and then when you click back to your original conversation, it's gone?

Or you're at dinner and your cell rings with some cretin telling you he's from the IRS and unless you send thousands of dollars via Western Union you'll be arrested and thrown in jail. Unfortunately, many people have fallen victim to this and other telephone scams.

Last year First Orion, a company that provides phone carriers and their customers caller ID and call blocking technology, predicted that incoming spam calls would skyrocket from 3.7 percent of total calls in 2017 to more than 45 percent by early this year.

It's time to fight back.

That's exactly what's happening in Congress as proposals in both the House and Senate, described in this Washington Post editorial, offer some hope for eventual relief. The Post points out that spammers can target thousands of phones an hour with only a click, almost for free, no matter where they are — and spoofing software allows them to do it while concealing their identities.

So you can receive a call from a scammer with your home area code and exchange, even though that call may originate hundreds, even thousands of miles away. But you answer it because you think it's local and might be important.

Thus, any solution will have to tackle two problems at once: spammers who do not spoof and the fraudsters who use fake numbers for their scams.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) introduced a bill in the House last week closing a loophole on autodialers who today take advantage of outdated legal language, a move that if adopted should deter legitimate businesses from abuse.

As for spoofers, major carriers could deploy a technology as early as this year that will tell consumers whether an incoming call comes from a verified number. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has already urged carriers to adopt these authentication systems, but stopped short of mandating it, The Post reported.

That's what Pallone’s bill would do, as would legislation in the Senate co-sponsored by Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and John Thune (R-SD). Pallone’s bill also would require phone companies to provide blocking services against spoofers free of charge.

Regarding enforcement, the House proposal would grant the FCC the ability to fine rule-breakers at first offense, and the Senate counterpart would allow fines of $10,000 per call, up from $1,500. Both bills would extend the statute of limitations on violations.

If anything shouts for bipartisan support, this should be it. After all, politicians are not immune from these pesky and potentially harmful calls. Passage of this legislation should be a no-brainer.

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