Robocalls: Consumer Reports hails final agreement on bill in Congress to crack down on abusive robocalls

House, Senate expected to vote on final anti-robocalls legislation in the coming days

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House and Senate leaders have announced an agreement on bipartisan legislation to provide new tools and legal authority to crack down on the flood of unwanted robocalls.  The House and Senate are expected to vote on the final measure in the coming days.

Consumer Reports, a leader in multi-year efforts to spur action by Congress and the FCC, hailed the move, and urged Congress to approve the bill.

“Robocalls are an ever-increasing plague on American consumers,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst with Consumer Reports.  “For too long, people have been inundated with unwanted, annoying automated calls, with no way to stop them. These calls disrupt our lives, interrupt time with family, interfere with important communications, and too often, they’re scams.  Shady scammers use robocalls to enter our homes and steal our money and our personal information.  The problems with robocalls are compounded by spoofing, when the caller deceptively sends a false number in the caller ID, tricking consumers into picking up the phone.

“With this legislation, phone companies will be required to give all consumers meaningful new protections against these calls,” said Mahoney, “and Americans will finally get some relief from the ringing telephone. We urge Congress to pass this bill, which is an important step forward, and we will keep working for more protections to stop unwanted robocalls.”

Congress enacted a law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 to require that robocallers call only when they have the consumer’s prior consent, and to give consumers the right to withdraw that consent at any time.  But with advances in technology that enable robocalls to be made in the thousands or even millions at a time, the consent requirement is being increasingly ignored.

The new bill in Congress – known as the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal  Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, helps address problems with robocalls in several important ways.  The bill (S. 151) strengthens penalties for intentional robocalling in violation of the prior consent requirement.  It requires telephone service providers to implement effective mechanisms for determining whether the number appearing on a call is authentic, and to alert consumers if the call cannot be authenticated.  It requires providers to enable the blocking of robocalls that cannot be authenticated, with protections and recourse for legitimate calls erroneously blocked.  Consumers will get these authentication and blocking services at no additional line item charge.

“Ensuring that phone companies are required to provide effective anti-robocall technology, at no charge, has long been a top priority for Consumer Reports, and we are glad to see a bill to guarantee this protection,” said Mahoney. “Consumers already pay so much for their phone service, it’s not fair that they should have to pay more to protect themselves from robocalls, many of which are from scammers that prey on people.”

Consumer Reports’ May 2019 cover story Mad About Robocalls? has a nationally representative CR survey that found 70 percent of U.S. consumers have stopped answering their phones if they don’t recognize the caller’s number, or if the number is anonymous.  Sixty-two percent said they let most calls go to voicemail.

Americans received an astounding 47.8 billion robocalls in 2018, a number already surpassed in the first ten months of 2019, according to YouMail, a private robocall blocking service.

In addition to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), leaders in this legislative effort include Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), and Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Mike Doyle (D-PA), and John Shimkus (R-IL).

The final bill omits some protections that had been included in the version of the bill the House passed this summer.  Among those protections were clarifying the consent requirement and the covered robocalling technologies, to close off avenues for robocallers to seek to evade compliance.

“With all the important new protections this bill gives consumers from unwanted and abusive robocalling, the final bill is also a missed opportunity to give them other needed protections,” said Mahoney. “We will continue to work with Congress and the FCC to get consumers all the protections they need.  Still, we are very glad Congress is taking these steps, and we look forward to helping see that these new protections are fully implemented.”

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Contact: David Butler, dbutler@consumer.org

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit membership organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. For 80 years, CR has provided evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, hard-hitting investigative journalism, public education, and steadfast policy action on behalf of consumers’ interests. Unconstrained by advertising or other commercial influences, CR has exposed landmark public health and safety issues and strives to be a catalyst for pro-consumer changes in the marketplace. From championing responsible auto safety standards, to winning food and water protections, to enhancing healthcare quality, to fighting back against predatory lenders in the financial markets, Consumer Reports has always been on the front lines, raising the voices of consumers.