If you're like me, multiple times every day your cell phone rings, often showing a number with your area code and exchange, and it's an automated phone call, somebody trying to sell you something or even scam you out of your money.
It's a rapidly growing problem and it's caught the attention of the U.S. Congress, where legislation, the ROBOCOP Act, which requires phone companies to provide customers with free tools to block such robocalls has been introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
According to YouMail, a company that claims it will free you forever from those pesky calls for a fee, of course, 3.2 billion robocalls were placed during March alone, or 9.7 calls per person affected. That's up from 2.4 billion last September.
The National Do Not Call Registry has failed to protect consumers from law-breakers and overseas scammers – resulting in over $350 million lost to phone scams each year, the bill's sponsors said.
“The public has been subjected to harassing robocalls for years; it’s time Congress took action and passed ROBOCOP,” Speier said. “This bicameral bill will put an end to the interruptions that have plagued family mealtimes, movie nights, and those big games. More importantly, it will help cut down on the stress and anxiety triggered by constant annoyance. I know, I experienced it firsthand when I was sick with the flu and tormented by ceaseless sales pitches.”
“Households across the country are harangued daily by millions of robocalls – calls that at best are a nuisance, and at worst threaten unsuspecting consumers with financial scams,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “The ROBOCOP Act restores power to consumers by requiring phone companies to provide effective technology that blocks unwanted calls at no cost to the consumer.”
The ROBOCOP Act:
Directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require telecom companies to verify that caller ID is accurate.
Provides an exception for consumers with legitimate need for altered caller ID, such as medical offices and domestic violence shelters.
Directs the FCC to require telecom companies to offer consumers optional free robocall-blocking technology. The technology would not block public safety entities and calls that the consumer consents to receive (e.g., school closings).
Gives consumers a private right of legal action against telecom companies that violate this statute.
Requires the FCC, in consultation with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to make a public report on whether the new rules have reduced unwanted calls.
Authorizes the FCC to create a nationwide unblocking system that will ensure consumers are in control of the calls and text messages they receive.
The ROBOCOP Act is supported by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Consumers Union.
“Like millions of Americans, I’m tired of robocalls and frustrated by the fact that the callers’ identification is often unavailable or faked,” said Susan Grant, CFA's director consumer protection and privacy. “CFA endorses this legislation to give consumers better tools and stronger legal rights to prevent these fraudulent and abusive sales calls.”
"We've heard from thousands of consumers who have been bombarded day and night by unwanted robocalls that invade their privacy, interrupt their sleep, interfere with important calls, and may even be criminal scam operations. The ROBOCOP Act is an important step to further protect consumers from unwanted, abusive, and harmful robocalls," said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.
How many times has this happened to you? I constantly receive robocalls from companies telling me they can slash what I owe on my credit cards, from people telling me they can reduce my student loan (I never had one), from people telling me they can help me get out of my time share contract (I've never owned a time share).
The calls always come at an inopportune time, and many are purportedly from my own area code and even local telephone exchange, so I'm tempted to answer. That's what those scammers are counting on, of course. But it's all phony.
It's time for Congress to take action, so I welcome the ROBOCOP Act. I hope it makes it through Congress. Maybe even the Republicans who control Congress will be ticked off enough to do something.