Aging Committee Examines Progress to Protect Consumers from Illegal Robocalls

Despite advancements, these calls remain a “significant consumer protection problem” according to the Federal Trade Commission

Click HERE for a copy of Senator Collins’ remarks
Click HERE for a copy of Senator Casey’s remarks
Click HERE to watch the hearing

Washington, D.C.—Complaints about robocalls are flooding the phone lines at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to testimony before the Senate Aging Committee today, the FTC says it received more than 3.4 million robocall complaints last year. This year, that number has already passed 3.5 million. Although the “Do Not Call” Registry has been in existence for 14 years and is supposed to help prevent unwanted calls, far too many Americans are frustrated by these unwanted calls.

As part of their continued effort to crack down on illegal robocalls and con artists who harass and steal from older Americans, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, held a hearing today titled, “Still Ringing Off the Hook: An Update on Efforts to Combat Robocalls,” to examine efforts of law enforcement and the telecommunications industry to crack down on unwanted calls. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are nearly 2.4 billion robocalls made every month.

“Last year, Americans received an estimated 2.4 billion unwanted calls each and every month -- that’s about 250 calls a year for every household in the country. In previous hearings on this topic, we learned that changes in technology have made it possible for scammers operating overseas to use automated dialing – or robocalls – to reach victims in the U.S,” said Chairman Collins. “Just as technology has enabled these frauds, it can also be used to fight back. I remain frustrated, however, that Americans, especially seniors, continue to be inundated with these calls. I am hopeful that continued education, more aggressive law enforcement, and an increased focus on advances in technology, will ultimately put an end to these harassing calls.”

“It has been nearly eight months since the FCC first proposed a rule that would make it harder for scammers to spoof certain telephone numbers to trick people into answering their phones and creating opportunities for fraud and scams,” Ranking Member Casey said. “Today, I call on the FCC to finalize this rule immediately, so that we can uphold our sacred responsibility to do more to safeguard older adults from frauds and scams.”

While the advent of new telecommunication technologies has increased efficiency and reduced costs, scammers have also capitalized on these advancements to operate with much greater ease. A simple Internet connection and software program can put an overseas scammer in business to begin attempting to rip off older Americans.

But just as technology has enabled these frauds, it can also be used to thwart scammers. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) convened the “Robocall Strike Force,” an industry-led group aimed at accelerating the development of new tools to halt the proliferation of illegal and unwanted robocalls and allowing consumers to control which calls they receive. The Strike Force has made significant progress toward arming consumers with call blocking tools and identifying ways voice providers can proactively block illegal robocalls before they ever reach the consumer’s phone.

Genie Barton, President of the Better Business Bureau Institute for Marketplace Trust (BBBI), testified at today’s hearing about her organization’s work to track and report scams, and provide education to older Americans. Working with local and state agencies to create a more trustworthy marketplace, she elaborated on the total damage of scams to businesses and consumers saying, “there is no greater threat to consumers and legitimate businesses than the fraud perpetrated by con artists,” adding that, “It not only robs both consumers and legitimate businesses, but it does far more harm. It humiliates the individual scam victim. It damages the reputation of ethical businesses whose identities scammers assume. Finally, scams erode consumer trust and engagement in the marketplace.”

One of the most common scams reported to the Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline is the IRS Impersonation Scam. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, more than 10,000 Americans have been defrauded through this scam at a cost of an estimated $54 million. Witnesses at today’s hearing, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, expressed concern with a recent change in federal law that allows private debt collectors, contracting with the IRS, to call Americans who owe back taxes. They emphasized that the IRS will never threaten anyone who may owe the IRS, and the agency will never ask taxpayers to pay using pre-paid iTunes or similar debit cards. Anyone who receives a suspicious call from someone claiming to be with the IRS should call the Committee’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470.

Witnesses for the hearing included:

  • Lois Greisman, Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C.
  • The Hon. Josh Shapiro, Attorney General, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, PA
  • Kevin Rupy, Vice President, Law & Public Policy, USTelecom, Washington, DC
  • Genie Barton, President, BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, Arlington, VA

Click HERE to read their testimonies.