Industry News

New law aims to thwart robocallers

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New consumer protections under the TRACED Act (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act) means robocallers based in the U.S. will face tighter scrutiny and stiffer penalties.

The new legislation, signed into law at the end of December 2019 and effective this year, directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to engage in several rulemaking, monitoring, and reporting activities, and it expands the Commission’s enforcement authority on those who intentionally violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

The FCC can now levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on telemarketers who flout the law. Only telemarketers from companies with whom a consumer has an established relationship, or has obtained permission to contact them, can make calls.

Law enforcement will also have more time to collar robocall scofflaws. Under the new legislation, the timeframe is extended from one year to four years.

The new protections also direct the FCC to create rules to help protect smartphone users from receiving unwanted texts or robotexts.

In a report to its members, the National Association of RealtorsĀ® (NAR) reminded real estate professionals to review their responsibilities under the TCPA to ensure compliance.

Advocates of the legislation say scammers would be easier to identify but added the number of calls may not decline much at first, and there are still loopholes. As an example, the legislation does not clarify what constitutes consumer consent to receive the calls. Another unresolved issue concerns international anti-robocall coordination.

The TRACED Act requires telecom carriers to implement, at no extra charge, a number-authentication system to help reveal a caller’s identity. “Unless governments can better align their law enforcement and number authentication standards, robocallers based beyond U.S. borders will continue to make their calls without sufficient interruption,” stated Consumer Reports (CR).

Even with the new protections, CR outlined various steps consumers can take to defend against robocalls:

  • List your mobile and landline phone numbers with the national Do Not Call (DNC) Registry. While this registry may deter unwanted calls, it won’t stop illegal robocallers who ignore the list from calling, and it doesn’t cover calls from organizations like political parties, nonprofits, and companies with whom a consumer has an established business relationship.
  • File a complaint with the FTC and the FCC. The FTC maintains a database of rogue robocallers which is used by the call-blocking industry and by phone companies to update their call-blocking lists.
  • Consider additional robocall-blocking protections. Many companies, including ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon, now offer services that can block calls and alert you about incoming calls from potential scammers or spammers at no additional charge. Additionally, carriers and third-party app providers offer more robust protections, some of which are free and others that are fee-based. Among these providers are Nomorobo, Hiya, Mr. Number, RoboKiller, Call Control Home, Truecaller, TrapCall, and YouMail. (Note: some apps share your phone number with analytics firms without your explicit consent. Check their privacy policy.)
  • Update your contacts list, which CR says is especially important if you choose to enable whitelisting.
  • Don’t interact with robocallers. If you answer a robocall, hang up immediately. Engaging just encourages robocallers to keep calling.

Robocalls are the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the FCC, making up 60 percent of all filings. As annoying as they are, U.S. consumers can take solace knowing they’re the eighth-most-spammed in the world. Brazil ranks first, averaging 46 such calls a month versus 18 in the U.S.

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