Almost everyone has had the experience.
Our phone rings, the number looks familiar and we answer. Or, the number doesn’t look familiar and we choose not to answer.
Either way, we’ve been interrupted. Sometimes while talking to a friend, sometimes while driving, always when we’re having dinner with the family or engrossed in a task requiring our concentration.
It’s a “robocall.” If the number looks familiar, the caller has probably “spoofed” it, meaning a false U.S. number appears on the caller ID. Spoofing often makes it look like the call is coming from someone in the recipient’s area code.
Last year, Arizonans received an average of 160.4 robocalls, most broadcasting a recorded message intended to trick the person picking up the phone into paying money to settle a fraudulent claim. Those behind this scam assert themselves as representatives of the IRS, local utilities, the Social Security Administration and even law enforcement. They threaten imprisonment, loss of benefits, service cutoffs and other alarming consequences unless an outstanding claim is settled immediately.
In addition to the annoyance of the interruption is the tragic impact on those who believe the caller. The Federal Trade Commission has reported that in 2019, phone scams cost victims more than $300 million, with an average loss of $700. That’s an increase of almost 20 percent compared to 2018.
Last week, U.S. Justice officials filed a federal lawsuit seeking a restraining order to stop a Phoenix-area couple from operating two telecom companies responsible for making hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls across the country. The lawsuit alleges the couple, who operate the companies from their home, made more than 720 million calls during a 23-day period in 2019. The average length of the call was less than a second and about 425 million originated from India.
Arizona U.S. Sen. Martha McSally authored legislation that passed Congress and was signed into law by President Donald Trump last year cracking down on robocalling. The TRACED Act gives enforcement agencies new tactics and requires phone companies to adopt technology that will block robocalls before those calls reach consumers.
But it’s not enough.
Existing law still allows politicians, debt collectors and pharmacies to utilize robocalling to broadcast messages, which makes it more difficult to apprehend criminals who use the technology to scam people.
Lawmakers need to recognize the seriousness of this practice and get serious about stopping it.
Until they do, we will all continue to be annoyed.