Washington, D.C. — Amidst ever-increasing numbers of robocall scams, the U.S. Senate voted 97-1 today to pass legislation cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to increase federal law enforcement’s authority to put a stop to these illegal calls. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act makes it easier for regulators to find scammers, increases civil forfeiture penalties for those who are caught, promotes call authentication and blocking adoption, and brings relevant federal agencies and state attorneys general together to address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers who intentionally flout laws.
“In the last year alone, Americans received more than 26 billion robocalls. These calls are not only a major nuisance, but also a tool that is often used by con artists to perpetrate crimes,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee. “Over the course of the nearly two dozen hearings I have held to expose and examine schemes that often rely on robocalls to target seniors, it is clear that a coordinated approach is necessary to put a stop to these illegal calls. The TRACED Act would help bring together all levels of government to help prevent scams and put criminals on notice that they will be caught and brought to justice.”
“At best, illegal robocalls are a major annoyance – at worst, they’re scams that target our most vulnerable citizens,” said Senator King. “Today’s overwhelmingly bipartisan vote reflects the obvious: Republicans, Democrats and Independents can all agree that it’s time to hang up on illegal robocalls once and for all.”
The TRACED Act would:
· Broaden the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions;
· Extend the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed. Under current law, the FCC has only one year to do so, and the FCC has said that “even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement” would improve enforcement against willful violators;
· Bring together the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other relevant federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities, to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution of robocall scams at the federal and state levels;
· Require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones; and
· Direct the FCC to initiate rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers.
As one report estimated, the number of spam calls will grow from 30 percent of all phone calls last year to 42 percent of all calls early this year. The TRACED Act would give the FCC more flexibility to enforce rules in the short term, while setting in motion consultations to increase prosecutions of violations, which often require international cooperation.
As Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, one of Senator Collins’ top priorities is to combat scams that target seniors. Senators Collins holds frequent hearing on issues related to fraud and scams targeting older adults. In January, the Aging Committee held the 22nd hearing in the past six years on scams. Additionally, the Aging Committee released its 2019 Fraud Book, which details the top 10 scams reported to the Committee’s toll-free Fraud Hotline (1-855-303-9470) last year.