With Help From the Florida Delegation, Congress Gets Ready to Crack Down on Robocalls

Last week, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a proposal cracking down on robocalls.

On a 97-1 vote, the Senate backed U.S. Sen. John Thune’s, R-SD, “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act”  which, according to supporters, “gives regulators more time to find robocall scammers, increases penalties for violators, promotes call authentication and blocking adoption, and brings federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address obstacles to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally flout laws.” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the only vote against the proposal.

The bill allows the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fine “people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions” as much as $10,000 and expands the window from catching them from one year to three. The proposal has a host of federal and state authorities working together but it also “requires voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.” If the bill becomes law, the FCC would also double down in its efforts to stop Americans from getting unwanted calls.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who cosponsored the bill, explained why he voted for the proposal last week.

“Millions of Floridians are harassed on a daily basis by illegal robocalls, but today the Senate took action on legislation I was proud to cosponsor to hold these perpetrators accountable,” Rubio said. “The TRACED Act will address the plague of robocalls by providing federal agencies with the needed authority and resources to find scammers and hold them accountable, while also promoting the use of authentication technologies by industry to ensure consumers are being adequately protected. Robocall scammers are using new, predatory tactics every day to disrupt the lives of Floridians and consumers nationwide, which is why it’s critical that Congress acts now, so that these perpetrators can be found and brought to justice.”

Over in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., introduced the companion bill earlier this year and he’s getting some help from the Florida delegation. Back in April, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., a senior Republican on the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, announced he was backing Kustoff’s proposal.

“Too many Floridians continue to be harassed by the nationwide onslaught of illegal robocalls,” Buchanan said. “These are more than just a minor inconvenience – phone scams can defraud innocent Americans out of their life savings – especially vulnerable seniors.”

“Last year, robocalls increased by 46 percent as nearly 48 billion were placed in the U.S. The majority of consumer complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission relate to unwanted calls, many of which maliciously hide or disguise the caller’s identity and location. These illegal calls often are from phone numbers that appear similar to those they’re targeting, known as ‘spoofing.’  These fraudulent calls comprised roughly a quarter of the 26 billion robo-calls placed to U.S. mobile numbers last year, according to one industry estimate,” Buchanan’s office noted.

Buchanan said that seniors, including those in Florida, have been targeted by robocalls.

“Nearly one in five Americans over 65 have been victimized by fraud,” Buchanan said adding he is optimistic the TRACED Act will be passed by Congress this year. “Congress has a real opportunity to address this serious issue by passing this bill.”

Rubio and Buchanan are not the only members of the Florida delegation concerned about robocalls. Back in January, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., paired up with U.S. Reps. Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., Garret Graves, R-La., and the late Walter Jones, R-NC, to bring out the “Spam Calls Task Force Act” which will create a federal task force to cut down on spam calls. Crist’s office insisted these calls are a “growing problem” to people across the nation and noted that 50 percent of cell phones receive them.

Crist’s bill is gaining traction on Capitol Hill. Back in March, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., threw her support behind Crist’s proposal.

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

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