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Hawaii senators target robocalls

At least three bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate to hopefully stem the tide of robocalls and increase penalties for offenders, and Hawaii’s senators are among those taking the lead.

Last week, Sens. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., co-introduced the Protecting American Consumers from Robocalls Act, which is aimed at curbing illegal robocalls. They were joined as co-sponsors by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats from Minnesota.

In a statement, Hirono called robocalls “an epidemic in this country.” She cited a recent study that “found people receive an average of 10 unwanted robocalls per day.”

“These calls are not only an annoyance, but they decrease the productivity of American workers and prey on seniors and other vulnerable populations who may fall victim to tax and other scams,” Hirono said.

The measure seeks to improve the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 and the Do-Not-Call Registry by giving land line and cellular consumers the ability to petition for statutory damages for all unsolicited telemarketing calls immediately after the first violation of the TCPA.

“By making it easier for individuals to sue those behind violations of the Do-Not-Call Registry and increasing the fines imposed for such violations, this bill will make the registry live up to its name and end unwanted robocalls once and for all,” Hirono said.

There are at least two other bills introduced this congressional session with similar aims.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, the top Democrat on the senate Telecommunications Subcommittee, last month introduced the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2018, which aims to help the Federal Communications Commission prosecute robocall violators by increasing the statute of limitations for abusive robocalls from one year to three.

“Frustration with illegal robocalls is something that crosses state lines, party lines and phone lines — and unites Americans everywhere,” Schatz said during a hearing prior to the bill’s introduction. “Robocalls have turned us into a nation of call screeners. We only pick up when we know who’s calling. Some people just don’t make or take calls on their cellphones, or have cut their land lines because of robocalls. And despite the laws we already have in place, the deluge is getting worse.”

The bill has been read twice by the full Senate and was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which hasn’t had a hearing for the measure.

And the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, co-sponsored by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Markey, has wide bipartisan support, with more than 70 co-signers. The measure, which was introduced in January and is still alive, was heard last month by the senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The bill would increase the power of federal authorities to prosecute and fine robocall scammers.

It also would require telecommunication companies to implement call authentication technology to stymie robocalls — which often appear on caller ID as incoming local calls although they can come from anywhere — a practice referred to as “spoofing.”

A coalition of 54 attorneys generals from U.S. states and territories, including Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors, signed a letter in March urging the Senate to pass the TRACED Act.

“Telemarketing calls and robocalls are a daily source of frustration for Hawaii residents,” Connors said. “The bipartisan TRACED Act prioritizes call authentication protocols in an effort to reduce these unwanted calls. It also authorizes creation of a working group focused on further limiting the impacts of these intrusions. We support this legislation and all such efforts to protect Hawaii consumers.”

A statement from Connors’ office said more than 48 billion robocalls were made in 2018, making them the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC and resulting in millions of dollars in consumer losses.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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