Robocallers will find it harder to annoy American consumers as the result of a new federal law.
At the end of December, President Donald Trump signed the law which overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress, the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, named after Sen. Frank Pallone Jr., D-NJ, and Sen. John Thune, R-SD.
The new law will expand the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to go after robocallers, implement ways to ensure that caller ID information is authentic, enhance consumer protections, and require carriers to provide call a blocking feature to consumers.
The three members of the Montana delegation, Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Jon Tester, and U.S. Rep. Greg Gainforte, all strongly supported the legislation.
The bill requires phone companies to install equipment that will make it easier to detect and block illegal robocalls. It stiffens penalties for scammers who make mass phone calls to people throughout the United States.
The bill makes “spoofing” illegal, as well. Spoofing is the practice of reworking the phone number to where the calls originate so that it appears the call is coming from someone in your area code or even your hometown.
Consumer Reports indicates that 70% of the cell phone users don’t answer a call if they don’t recognize the phone number. The receiver often figures that a legitimate caller would otherwise leave a voicemail message.
Some estimates place the number at 5.7 billion robocalls made last November alone.
Spoofing allows the scammers to make it look as if the caller lives in the immediate area.
In fact, according to an informal Havre Herald survey, two people said they received phone calls in which the caller ID listed their own phone number as the incoming caller.
“I thought I was going to be talking to myself,” laughed one of the people involved.
But while pleased that the anti-robocall legislation passed, regulators are far from claiming victory over the scammers. It will take weeks or months to get the legislation in order.
For one thing, although technology exists to block robocalls from cell phones, it is nearly impossible to block calls directed to land-line numbers. The phone companies are working on a solution.
Still, while federal authorities already have some power to prosecute, fine and imprison violators, the scammers prove difficult to locate. Often they are located offshore and out of reach of United States federal law enforcement.
Meanwhile, federal officials are working on a long-range solution.
But robocallers remain determined.
While this Havre Herald reporter was working on this story, he was interrupted by a call on the office phone.
It seems that the warranty on our car, which we don’t have, is about to expire. The scammer has called us repeatedly, saying this is our “last chance.”
The message continues: Press 2 and give our Social Security number and all will be set.
It’s crucial that you do not follow such directions. So what should you do if you get an unwanted robocall?
For now, the best solution is to immediately hang up and call the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP. Report the number the call came from and the exact time you received it. It probably won’t result in authorities catching the scammer, but it will help pinpoint scammers in the long run, officials said.
Email John Kelleger at firstname.lastname@example.org