EDITORIAL: Vigilance needed to stop robocalls

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So you put your cell number on the state’s Do Not Call registry and the unwanted calls from telemarketers slow down.

But then you notice that instead of calls, you’re bombarded with text messages instead. It’s a loophole in the state law that telemarketing companies have been exploiting since New York started cracking down on robocalls.

Now, thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week, New Yorkers whose cell phone numbers are listed on the Do Not Call list should start to see their unwanted email solicitations let up. The bill (A6040/S3941) adds text messages to the state’s definition of telemarketing and robocalling. The bill passed the state legislature unanimously in June and will take effect next month.

Robocalls are a pervasive, growing and expensive annoyance. In April alone, Americans received 4.5 billion robocalls. Of those, more than 229 million went to New Yorkers. Those calls are not just annoying; telemarketing fraud costs Americans about $40 billion a year.

The pandemic exacerbated the problem of robocalls by text, and the new state legislation is meant to close the loophole that didn’t anticipate the use of texts as a tool for telemarketers and scammers.

The problem is that even if you’re on the Do Not Call list, some calls and texts will continue to get through. The state legislation will help, but it won’t cure the problem.

Part of the problem with robocalls is technological – it’s difficult for communications companies to always identify what call is a scam and what might be a legitimate robocall, such as a call to parents letting them know when schools are closed.

A report in the New York Times said the feds are jumping in to help in that respect.

The Federal Communications Commission now requires phone companies to register their efforts to discourage scams in a Robocall Mitigation Database. Starting Sept. 28, the phone companies must refuse calls from providers that haven’t registered.

Our representatives in Congress are also trying to address the problem legislatively.

The “Deter Obnoxious, Nefarious, and Outrageous Telephone (DO NOT) Call Act” (Is that a great name for a bill or what?) would increase the penalties for companies preying on consumers through robocalls, including doubling fines and imposing jail terms for persistent violators.

There’s no one solution to the scourge of robocalls. And as technology advances, the companies that perpetuate these calls will keep finding ways around the laws.

That’s why legislation such as the bill just signed by Cuomo and the efforts pending in Congress are so vital.

It’s a non-stop problem that requires our elected representatives to show non-stop vigilance.

 

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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