Wednesday, April 3, 2019
Outraged consumers, policymakers, businesses, public interest groups come together as robocall problem reaches epidemic level
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A diverse group of stakeholders gathered today on Capitol Hill to discuss the growing problem of robocalls and pending bills in Congress that aim to stop these incessant, often predatory calls. Consumer Reports hosted the roundtable discussion “Hanging Up on Robocalls” at the Capitol building with members of Congress, state enforcement officials, public interest groups, and businesses that have been leading efforts to protect consumers and put an end to robocalls.
Today’s discussion focused on a variety of legislation in Congress that would beef up existing laws, help reduce “spoofed” calls, and make it easier for the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on scammers.
Chronic robocalls are not just annoyances. Criminals use robocalls to steal people’s money and personal information. In 2018, Truecaller found that consumers lost nearly $9 billion to phone scams in the previous 12-month period.
Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports, said, “Consumers are fed up with the robocalls that interrupt their lives, invade their privacy and give scammers 24/7 access to take advantage of them. Existing protections haven’t been enough to prevent consumers from being hounded by these unwanted calls, but there are promising proposals in Congress to bring some relief. We look forward to working with lawmakers and other stakeholders to pursue effective policies to address this problem.”
Consumer Reports’ new cover story Mad About Robocalls? offers an in-depth investigation into how the robocalls problem has reached an epidemic level in recent years, with recommendations for phone carriers and the government to address the issue.
A new nationally-representative survey by CR finds 70 percent of U.S. consumers have stopped answering their phones if they don’t recognize the number or if the caller’s number is anonymous. Sixty-two percent said they let most calls go to voicemail, and 53 percent said they have educated family members about potential threats and scams from robocalls and how to protect themselves.
CR has launched a national petition calling on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to take strong action and require all carriers to adopt free caller ID-verification technology that will help stop ‘spoofed’ robocalls. “Call spoofing” allows scammers to mask their calls with fake numbers that appear on your caller ID and often look like local calls.
Senator Edward J. Markey (Mass.): “With robocalls reaching extreme levels, it’s time to put a stop to these harmful and abusive consumer threats once and for all. The TRACED Act increases enforcement of robocall violations and mandates the adoption of call authentication and blocking technologies. There are no blue robocalls or red robocalls, and our effort to stop this telephonic scourge should know no political boundaries. I thank Senator Thune for his partnership on this important consumer protection effort.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal (Conn.): “Households across the country are harangued daily by millions of robocalls – unwanted intrusions that at best are a nuisance, and at worst threaten unsuspecting consumers with financial scams. Thank you to Consumer Reports for convening today’s thoughtful discussion on how to address this pernicious problem. It’s now time for all carriers to provide consumers with effective technology that blocks unwanted calls at no cost to them.”
Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.): “Robocalls are out of control and it’s up to Congress to do something about it. Consumers don’t deserve to be preyed upon by scammers that are just trying to undermine someone’s personal privacy and financial information. It’s time to put an end to this nuisance.”
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (NJ-06): “Americans are fed up with robocalls. It’s time for Congress to act, which is why I introduced the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act to crack down on all types of annoying robocalls and ensure the FCC has the authority and tools it needs to protect consumers. I plan to hold a hearing on my bill soon in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Thank you to Consumer Reports for all of the great work it’s doing to shine a light on the robocall epidemic.”
Representative Jackie Speier (CA-14): “Not a day goes by that I’m not bombarded with robocalls; just yesterday I got a message from a scam artist claiming my Social Security status was in jeopardy. And I know I’m far from alone. Millions of Americans are plagued by these harassing callsand demanding the FCC take action but to no avail. It’s time for Congress to step in. That’s why I’m introducing the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones (ROBOCOP) Act. My bill requires telephone companies to offer free robocall blocking services to all their customers so that people can get some relief from pests, as well as block “spoofed” numbers that allow overseas scammers to get through a normal Do Not Call firewall. We shouldn’t have to disable our phones or go off the grid to stop the madness.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein: “Robocalls are not only extremely annoying, they’re also a way to scam vulnerable North Carolinians out of their hard-earned money. That’s why I am leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general to urge telecom companies to do more to stop these calls.”
National Association of Attorneys General: “State attorneys general are on the front lines of enforcing do-not-call laws and helping consumers who are harassed and scammed by unwanted telemarketing calls and robocalls. Robocalls and telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints at many state AG offices, as well as at both the FCC and the FTC. Visit www.consumerresources.org to file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office or to learn more about robocalls.”
Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities, Consumer Action: “The telephone is now being thrown out the proverbial window by many people because of the robocall scourge. Consumers expect, and deserve, that those who break the law will be caught and made to pay. But except for limited enforcement actions, this trust has been broken in the case of robocalls. Consumer Action recognizes the complexity of this problem but already the inaction of those tasked with protecting us has resulted in an almost 50% increase in robocalls in 2018 alone. Let’s find some common ground and stop these calls!”
Aaron Foss, Founder, Nomorobo: “Government regulation can be effective when properly applied. While it’s important for Congress to address the problem of robocalls, holes still remain. It will take a long time for legislation to take effect, and too often scrupulous robocallers ignore the law. That’s why there needs to be a comprehensive effort to stop robocalls. Nomorobo is committed to working together with concerned advocates and stakeholders to provide a necessary defense for consumers against predatory scams.”
John Ayers, VP of Corporate Development, First Orion: “Protecting consumers and businesses from illegal and unwanted calls requires ongoing and aggressive action by carriers, support from regulators and legislators, as well as an all out education and awareness campaign. The new piece by Consumer Reports—and the discussion here today–illustrates that we are indeed fighting back, but also reflects that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly around spoofed calls which now account for more than 90% of mobile scam calls and other unwanted calls.”