U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced he will push legislation in the Senate that would finally require landline and mobile carriers to offer free robocall-blocking technology to all consumers. The Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act (ROBOCOP) Act, would also direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require carriers to verify that the information that appears in their caller ID systems is accurate. 

“Robocalls are one of the things that annoy Americans the most, and the ROBOCOP Act will finally help put a rest to these dreaded calls that are flooding our cellphones, interrupting family dinners or even scamming people out their hard-earned money,” said Senator Schumer. “Despite the existing ‘Do Not Call’ registry, the robocall problem has returned in a serious way. It’s an epidemic that we’ve got to stop—whether it’s the landline or cell phone. It’s taking far too long for telecom companies to act, so that’s why I’m pushing the ROBOCOP bill, which will finally require all major landline and mobile carriers to make robocall blocking technology available to all consumers. Now is the time for phone carriers to answer the call and free consumers of these dreaded robocalls.”

Despite federal ‘Do Not Call’ rules, the New York Times recently reported that robocalls and other unwanted spam calls are getting worse. According to data from calling services vendor YouMail, consumers received 3.4 billion robocalls in April – an increase of almost 900 million a month compared with a year ago. Schumer said the federal government must do everything possible to make sure robocalls stop increasing year after year. Despite federal ‘Do Not Call’ rules, hundreds of thousands of individuals continue to receive unwanted spam calls. According to the FTC, unwanted and illegal robocalls are the FTC’s number-one complaint category, with more than 1.9 million complaints filed in the first five months of 2017 alone. According to the FTC, the FTC received 4.5 million robocall complaints in 2017, an increase of over one million from the previous year. 

In addition to being an annoyance, Schumer explained that robocalls can also hurt consumers financially when they involve scammers. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, robocalls have resulted in approximately hundreds of millions of dollars in financial losses each year.

Robocalls are phone calls that use automated dialing machines to play a pre-recorded message. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 99 percent of robocalls are illegitimate or fraudulent.  Illegal robocalls are made by companies or individuals trying to scam the person on the other end of the phone. Many times, these calls are placed using “caller id spoofing.” Individuals that resort to “caller id spoofing” use advanced technology to mimic the caller id of a legitimate entity such as a government agency, credit card company, a bank, or even a next door neighbor. Under the “Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009,” robocalls are illegal if used for the purpose of defrauding or otherwise causing harm.  However, despite the fact that many of these calls clearly violate the law, it is difficult if not impossible to catch the perpetrators, many of whom are overseas or hiding behind fake numbers. 

According to the Consumers Union, robocall scammers cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Schumer pointed to the famous robocall tax scam that has threatened individuals, some in New York, by telling victims that they owe money to the IRS.  Schumer noted that the FTC led several efforts to identify and develop robocall-blocking technology and, as a result, Time Warner Cable Inc. announced that it would provide its customers with access to Nomorobo, a third-party robocall- blocking service for those with Internet-based service or Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Schumer said that because such caller ID blocking services, like Nomorobo, already exist, other landline and mobile carriers should similarly offer robocall-blocking services to consumers in order to eliminate future nuisances and even scams. Schumer explained that such technology works much like an e-mail spam box because it filters robocalls and other unwanted phone calls from reaching the consumer.

The National “Do-Not-Call” Registry, managed by the FTC, was implemented in 2003 after the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003. The registry is designed to give people a choice about whether they would like to receive telemarketing calls at home. It was created to limit the number of telemarketing calls and robocalls made to U.S. households. In order to register, one may log onto the “Do-Not-Call” website and their phone number will be permanently placed in the registry. 

Schumer has long supported efforts to crackdown on robocalls. For instance, Schumer has supported federal legislation that would drastically increase punishments for telemarketing companies that continue to make robocalls.

The new bill Schumer is joining, the ROBOCOP Act, will direct the FCC to enact regulations that require providers of telecommunications services or IP-enabled voice services, for no additional charge, to enable robocall blocking technology with exceptions for calls made by a public safety entity or where the recipient provides prior consent to receive the call. The bill also subjects to civil forfeiture penalties, criminal fines, or state actions persons who intentionally cause call-blocking technology to: (1) incorrectly identify calls as originating from an automatic dialing system or using an artificial or prerecorded voice, or (2) prevent the called party from receiving a call made by a public safety entity or a call to which it has provided its prior consent.

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