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Measure To Ban Robocalls Gains Momentum Among State Lawmakers

New York lawmakers announcing the Robocall Prevention Act in Albany.
New York lawmakers announcing the Robocall Prevention Act in Albany. Photo Credit: Sen. Brad Hoylman

State lawmakers in New York are taking a stand against robocalls, proposing a bill that would stop automated phone calls from being placed without prior consent.

New York Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, and consumer advocates announced the Robocall Prevention Act in Albany on Tuesday, following a record number of unwanted calls that were made in 2018.

According to Hoylman, more than 47.8 billion robocalls were placed nationwide in 2018.

“Our bill will stop robocalls from being made to any telephone number owned by a person in New York, unless for emergency purposes or with their express consent,” the senator said. “We’ll also require cell phone carriers to make their call-blocking technology available to New Yorker’s free of charge.”

According to officials, “spoofing” allows scammers to disguise their identities, making it difficult for law enforcement to bring them to justice.

“Technology has made it easier and cheaper than ever for scammers to spoof caller-ID information and initiate an autodialed call that imitates the number of a trusted party, such as your doctor,” Hoylman and Niou wrote in a special for Crain’s New York.

“Existing federal regulations aren’t equipped to handle this massive influx of calls. For instance, although federal law prohibits all autodialed or pre-recorded calls to cell phones without consent, it provides little protection for landlines, allowing auto-dialed calls to relentlessly target Americans in their homes.”

“Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection,” a coalition of Attorneys General wrote in the comments filed in a complaint with the FCC last year.

One tactic fraudsters utilize is “neighbor spoofing,” a technique that allows calls – no matter where they originate – to appear on a caller ID as being made from a phone number that has the same local area code and exchange as the consumer. This manipulation of caller ID information increases the likelihood that the consumer will answer the call.

“Robocalls target the elderly and immigrants to scam money from them,” Niou added. “A caller who claimed to be a Chinese consulate, scammed 3 million last year from Chinese immigrants in my district.”  

According to reports, New York has been hit particularly hard by robcalls, with New York City ranking third in the country with more than 162 million robocalls, while Buffalo received more than 50 million robocalls last month alone.

If approved, the legislation would also provide the state Attorney General enforcement powers on robocall, authorizing civil penalties of up to $2,000 per robocall and up to $20,000 for calls placed in violation of the law within a 72-hour period.

“When the federal government fails to protect our citizens from this outrageous harassment, New York must take action,” Hoylman and Niou stated. “This is common sense. It’s time for Albany to act, and ban robocalls without consent—so that we can finally be free of unwanted calls.”

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