U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at stopping robocall scams at the source.
“The calls are beyond annoying,” Crapo said in a statement. “They are invasive and can be financially destructive.”
Crapo, a Republican, and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a candidate for president, jointly introduced the bill, the Data Analytics Robocall Technology, or DART, Act.
The bill would set up a one-year pilot project authorizing the Federal Communications Commission to let local phone companies block any call that doesn’t pass an authentication check, meaning it’s “spoofing” or masquerading as a call that’s coming from a number different from its real source.
Asked if she thought the blocking would work, Stephanie Guyon, a deputy Idaho attorney general with the Consumer Protection Unit, said, “Whatever they can do is better than nothing. I don’t ever want to say, ‘Oh, well, that won’t work, don’t even bother,’ because you need to do something.”
Guyon said her unit gets calls about “the typical robocalls: The Social Security scam, someone wanting to arrest them for not paying the IRS, just your typical calls that everybody is getting.”
“Our No. 1 recommendation is don’t interact with these people,” she said. “If you don’t recognize the phone number, don’t pick up the phone. I know that’s difficult for a lot of people, for whatever reason. … If they do answer and it’s someone threatening them or telling them that they owe a bunch of money, just hang up.”
The DART act has exemptions from the call-blocking for calls originating from public safety, law enforcement or government agencies agencies about emergencies; or from schools about weather-related closures or emergencies affecting schools.
The bill also authorizes the pilot program to include letting consumers provide a list of approved phone numbers to their telephone provider, and having calls from all other numbers blocked. However, that doesn’t account for folks who, say, are advertising an item for sale and want to take calls about it.
Crapo said scammers are continually shifting to new tactics. One of the latest the FCC has been warning about is the “one ring” robocall scam, in which the scammers let the phone ring just once, while disguising their number to appear as if it’s coming from within the United States. Their hope is to get the recipient to call the number back, incurring big charges.
Crapo said his and Klobuchar’s bill seeks “to get to the root of the problem.”
The bill, S. 2204, is a follow-up to another measure that passed the Senate with just one “no” vote in May, the TRACED Act, or Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act. That measure, S. 151, of which Crapo was one of 84 co-sponsors, required the authentication process and imposed increased penalties for scam robocallers, but didn’t take the step of actually authorizing the blocking of the calls.
“We’re told by the FCC that this is the best way to go after it,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman, “making an attempt to stop the calls at the source, and having the carrier be the responsible party.”
The legislation would also set up an appeal procedure for those who believe their calls are improperly blocked, and would forbid the FCC from penalizing a carrier who inadvertently blocks a legitimate call.
Similar legislation is in the works in the House, and Nothern said the hope is to get the DART Act written into the final version of the bill when the House and Senate convene a conference committee to work out their differences.
The TRACED Act passed the Senate 97-1 on May 22, with just Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, dissenting.
Similar legislation passed the House on July 24, sponsored by Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.