Every minute in the United States, 50,000 robocalls are made.
Most of them are just annoying. A recording will inform you that your car warranty (which you probably don’t have) is expiring and if you just hand over your Social Security number the matter will be resolved.
Some are amusing, such as the poor scammer who unwittingly called the home phone of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox trying to collect for police. Fox is in charge of the Montana Highway Patrol.
And sometimes it’s sad.
U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Rep-Mont., tells the story of a Bozeman woman who was devastated after she received a robocall from the phone number of her late brother, who had died of a heroin overdose a few weeks earlier.
If calls came from Nebraska or South Carolina, people with no ties to those areas could surmise the calls were scammers and ignore them. But technology now makes it possible for scammers to use Montana or even Havre phone numbers. People are more likely to answer those calls, suspecting it may be someone they know.
“It seriously hampers productivity in the workplace, is confusing to customers and, at worst, preys on those who might be vulnerable to such tactics,” said Paul Tuss of Havre.
Political leaders are under no illusion that there is a quick fix for the problem. Often, as soon as a solution is found, scammers work around it.
But the U.S. House Of Representatives passed with only three dissenting votes on Wednesday a bill that would make it easier to catch scammers.
The legislation — the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act — would require phone companies to provide call-blocking technology that would thwart robocalls at no cost to consumers and small businesses.
It would also authorize additional technology that makes it easier to find the locations from which the calls originate.
Fines and prison sentences would be enhanced, the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department would have more authority to crack down on illegal robocallers.
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Partisanship has divided the nation’s capital, but the anti-robocall legislation gained support from everyone ranging from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to President Donald Trump. Except for a handful of libertarians who fear government intrusion into private affairs, there was no opposition.
A similar but not identical bill has passed the U.S. Senate, and supporters hope to iron out the differences next week.
The subject has bridged the political divide in Montana as well.
Gianforte took to the House floor to support the legislation.
“Robocalls are not only a nuisance, they’re a threat to honest, hardworking Montanans. Illegal robocalls seek to exploit them and steal their personal, private information and their money,” Gianforte said. “It’s time to put an end to the stories I hear too often from Montanans about illegal robocalls.”
Sen. Jon Tester D-Mont., agreed.
“Montanans are sick and tired of being bombarded with robocalls – it has got to stop. The (legislation) gives us more tools in the toolbox to tackle the problem head-on, so we can hang up on robocallers for good.”
An informal survey by The Herald showed support for the legislation.
Should Congress adopt the legislation?
“Yes they should,” said Val Murri of Havre. ‘We get about 5-10 a day!”
“It’s gotten out of hand, and the frequency has increased significantly,” said Tuss. “Legislation should be initiated to deal with this problem.”
“Ban them,” said Havre real estate agent Kim Cripps. “I’m so tired of calls at home and on my cellphone. I’m not going to jail, I have no warrants, I don’t need a Life Alert.”
“I block them after I give them the ‘what for,’ ” said Daisy Sherman of Havre.
“I have gotten them as early as 7:30 a.m, and as late at 9:30 p.m., and sometimes my phone rings non-stop throughout the day,” said Andrea Linne Melle of Havre. “They need to stop!”
Email John Kelleher at email@example.com