Lawmaker proposes $10,000 fine for robocalls

(WTHR file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - If Congressman David Kustoff has his way, robocallers are going to find their wallets much lighter.

The Tennessee Republican wants fines of $10,000 per robocall, according to WMC. He also wants the fines to be retroactive three years.

"The FCC can fine $10,000 per call going back 3 years because it takes some time to investigate where the calls coming from," Kustoff said.

Kustoff says he's hearing support from both sides of the aisle, which is primarily an effort to end scams associated with the automated calls.

Chief Investigative reporter Bob Segall looked into the robocall issue in a February story.

If it seems like you’re getting annoying phone calls from a telemarketer just about every day, it’s not your imagination.

New data shows Americans received more than 30 billion robocalls last year – most of them illegal – as the number of pre-recorded solicitations reached an all-time record.

“I just want [them] to stop calling me!” explained Lori Rowe, a legal secretary from Indianapolis, who says her cell phone is bombarded with robocalls. In the past year, Rowe received more than 100 calls from the same company offering to lower her credit card rate.

“It’s never a live person, just a recording,” she told 13 Investigates. “They say ‘It’s Credit Card Services. Everything’s OK with your card, but we need to talk to you.’ I just hang up.”

The robocalls come so frequently, Rowe usually doesn’t answer her phone any more unless she recognizes the caller’s phone number. When WTHR called to talk with her about multiple robocall complaints she’s filed with the Indiana Attorney General’s office, Rowe let the call go straight to her voicemail, fearing it might be another solicitation from Credit Card Services.

“I don’t care to listen to what they have to say. I block them, I report them, and I don’t answer,” she said.

And yet, the robocalls keep on coming -- especially frustrating for Rowe because she has registered her cell phone on both the state and federal Do Not Call lists. The truth is, those government registries aren't going to save you from illegal robocalls.

“A lot of the calls that people are getting are not from legitimate businesses, so those individuals are trying to scam you. They don't care if you're on the Do Not Call list or not,” said Betsy Isenberg, director of the Indiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

The AG's consumer protection call center gets thousands of complaints every year about robocalls. Last year alone, it received 4,883 complaints about robocalls made to Hoosier cell phones – a 28% increase over the previous year.

But investigators admit, in most cases, they are helpless because that annoying call you just received is likley coming from overseas.

“If those people are calling from another country, there isn't much the Attorney General's office can do to stop those calls from occurring,” Isenberg told WTHR.

But consumer protection advocates say there are effective tricks you can use to fight back against robocallers and reduce the likelihood that you’ll be targeted by their incessant sales pitches. And high-tech tools for both cell phones and landline phones provide powerful weapons in the fight against telemarketers and scam artists.

Here are some of the free or low-cost tricks and tools you can utilize right now to battle robocallers:

  1. DO NOT ANSWER IF YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE THE NUMBER. Scam artists and telemarketers can’t get to you if you ignore them. If it’s actually your Aunt Jennifer calling you from a pay phone, she’ll leave you a message.
  1. BLOCK UNRECOGNIZED CALLERS. After you ignore the call, go a step further and prevent that number from calling you back – ever. On both iPhones and Android phones, it takes only a few seconds to block all future calls from a specific phone number. Go to your Recent Calls list and hit the “Block this caller” button for all unrecognized callers who did not leave you a message. The next time those telemarketers try calling you from those phone numbers, your phone will not even ring.
  1. IF YOU DO ANSWER A ROBOCALL, REMAIN SILENT. If you realize the call is a recorded message, hang up without saying anything or pressing any numbers on your phone. Robocallers use gimmicks to detect valid, active phone numbers, and once they know your number is active, they will call you over and over again. That’s why the recorded messages will often begin with a line such as “Hi, this is Monica. How are you today?” to see if you will respond. Many of the recordings will invite you to “Press 2 to be placed on our Do Not Call list.” Don’t fall for it. Pressing any button on your phone will do just the opposite, alerting the scammers they have an active phone number to call back later. Keep quiet and just hang up.
  1. DOWNLOAD A SCAM CALL DETECTION APP ON YOUR CELL PHONE. There are plenty of high-tech, low-cost (or even free) apps that Robocallers hate. Download them onto your phone and you’ll see why. Apps like Hiya, Nomorobo, and YouMail offer advanced caller ID and help you identify when an incoming call is a scam, extortion, a telemarketer or any other form of telephonic low-life interrupting your day. Using information from a massive database including reports from the FCC and millions of other users, the apps will actually identify calls as “Possible Scam” or “Telemarketer” when your phone rings. Thinking about answering that mysterious number? You probably won’t if it’s clearly identified as “Extortion” or “IRS scam.” This advanced caller ID technology has already been picked up by some wireless carriers (such as T-mobile) and some phone manufacturers (such as Samsung) and will likely be standard on all cell phones and on all wireless networks in the not-too-distant future. You’ll find LOTS of call ID/blocking apps on the market. CTIA, a wireless industry marketing association, has a comprehensive list that includes dozens of these apps for Android, iOS (Apple), and Windows cell phones.
  1. AVOID THE NEIGHBOR SCAM. The hottest telemarketing scam is to “spoof” a phone number to make it appear you are getting a call from a family member, neighbor or local business. The scammers will call you with what appears to be a phone number that has the same first six digits as your own phone number. You think “Oh, that number looks familiar so it must be from someone close by” and answer the phone, only to find a recorded message from an IRS impersonator or vacation timeshare company. Don’t fall for it. Ignore the call. If it is legit, they’ll leave you a message.
  1. NEVER GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFO OVER THE PHONE. Don’t share your credit card number, banking account info, Social Security number, Medicare number or other personal details with someone who calls you. (If you initiate the call with a company you want to do business with, that is different.)
  1. ASK A TELEMARKETER FOR THEIR PERSONAL INFORMATION. (This is a Bob Segall trick.) If you do answer a robocall – which I hope you do not – and want to see if the call is from a legitimate company, ask the caller for her phone number and tell her you’d like to call her back so you can record the conversation. Chances are, she will hang up very quickly. Scammers don’t generally like to be recorded and most do not have a legitimate business phone number for you to reach them. You can also ask telemarketers for additional information such as the name of the company they work for, an address where you can reach them, and the city from which they are calling. A legit business is happy to answer questions and will welcome you calling them back.
  1. YOU DID NOT WIN A HUGE PRIZE OR AN ALL-EXPENSES PAID VACATION. Anyone calling you to say you are a big winner is up to no good. Chance are, they will ask YOU to pay something to claim your prize or ask for your personal information. Or they are trying to rope you into a costly vacation rental or timeshare. It’s a scam. Sorry.
  1. SIGN UP FOR THE DO NOT CALL LISTS. As previously explained, registering for these lists will not prevent telemarketing calls from unscrupulous scam artists. But signing up for the Indiana Do Not Call list and the National Do Not Call list may help reduce the number of telemarketing calls you get from real businesses that actually follow the law. Don’t forget to register both your mobile phone and your landline phone. (If you still remember what a landline phone is.)
  1. FILE A COMPLAINT. The FTC, FCC and Indiana Attorney General are all happy to take your complaints on robocalls. Chances are, you will NOT get any resolution because most of the scammers are calling from overseas and are hard to track down. But there is value is tracking the number of calls, the number of complaints and looking for trends among the robocallers – and complaints help state and federal agencies look for those trends. And statistical information also helps lawmakers and federal agencies justify the need for programs or legislation to help better tackle the robocall epidemic. Within just the past few months, the FCC gave wireless carriers permission to block calls that they believe to be scams. In the past, phone companies had to deliver every phone call (just like the US Postal Service has to deliver every letter). Now, scam calls can be blocked by your phone company before your phone ever rings.
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