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Lawmakers explore ways to crack down on illegal robocalls

Unwanted and illegal robocalls are costing American consumers big bucks.

Combatting these illegal robocalls was the topic of a Senate subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Lawmakers on the panel said robocall scammers cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in losses a year.

“Fraud losses due to phone scams are higher than ever,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska). “According to a recent report, over 68 million Americans lost approximately $40 billion to phone scams in 2021 alone.”

“Every month, Americans receive roughly 1.5 billion to three billion scam calls and likely illegal telemarketing calls,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico). “Automated bots and other artificial intelligence systems are using public data to consent on behalf of a consumer for calls they never asked for and do not want.”

The Senators on the subcommittee questioned consumer, tech and business reps about the impact of these unwanted calls.

“Can you share examples of how messages and calls such as these defraud customers?” asked Luján.

“An elderly woman in Virginia who answered a pre-recorded call reporting to be from the Social Security Administration… she actually ended up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings,” said Margot Saunders, Senior Counsel for the National Consumer Law Center.

Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 and the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act in 2019, which aimed to protect consumers from illegal robocalls.

But lawmakers and witnesses warned scammers are finding ways to evade these laws, often turning to robotexts and the help of artificial intelligence.

Witnesses called on the Department of Justice to prioritize prosecutions when a person or business violates the rules.

They also urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update how it handles robocalls.

“If the FCC were to adopt a system under which it quickly suspends the ability of a voice service provider to participate in the network once that provider is determined to be a repeat offender, we think that would be a magic bullet,” said Saunders.

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