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Senator Proposes Stiffening Penalties for Automated Outbound Call Violators

Senator Proposes Stiffening Penalties for Automated Outbound Call Violators

December 06, 2013
By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to send illegal robocallers to jail. It’s very probable that he would find few Americans who disagree with him on that score. Most of us would personally like to put “Rachel from Card Services” behind bars and throw away the key.

Robocalling, the practice of using a recorded voice combined with an auto-dialer, is a controversial technology. While it has legitimate applications – a pharmacy reminding patients that it’s time for refills, a school informing parents that there is a weather delay – it has become one of the most abused telecommunications technologies ever. Politicians have grasped it with both hands, using robocalling both to fire up voters for their own campaigns and to criticize the positions of their opponents. Fraudsters use it to frighten consumers into buying items such as home security systems and credit monitoring services.

In theory, people who subscribe to federal or state do-not-call lists should be exempt from robocalls, as should mobile phone subscribers (since phone owners may end up paying for the unwanted nuisance calls). These rules are seldom obeyed, and enforcement is very rare (largely because it’s so easy to mask the calling party’s identity).

Senator Schumer held a news conference earlier this week to announce his new strategy against illegal robocalling, noting that spammers are taking advantage of new technology, legal loopholes and weak penalties to violate the federal “Do Not Call” registry.

“It is a misdemeanor or less for breaking the law, and if you make one call or a million calls, the top fine is only $10,000,” said Schumer at the conference.

While current federal law prevents companies from using automated dial numbers and play pre-recorded telemarketing calls without express written permission from the call recipient, unscrupulous players continue to do it. When caught, many of them simply close down the company, pay the fine and open another company under a different name elsewhere.

“When it comes to the loophole-exploiting robocall industry, we need to fight fire with fire – and that means higher penalties, jail time, and better technology to fight the spammers who have ruined countless family dinners, sporting events, and other family gatherings,” said Schumer in a statement.  “The Do Not Call list is a great idea that needs some updating to make it better suited to our modern world.”

The senator proposed boosting the fines to $20,000 for each violation and enforcing jail time for repeat offenders. It will be up to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) and the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) to enforce these rules.

There is no guarantee that any legislation Schumer proposes will become law. Business interests that support robocalling have deep pockets and strong arms, and many bills meant to protect consumers from abusive telemarketing practices have died in committee. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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