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NY Lawmakers Aim To Curb Robocalls

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

When state lawmakers return later this month for a post-budget session, there are a number of issues they hope to tackle, including trying to curb the number of robocalls New Yorkers receive on their phones.

The calls are annoying, and becoming more frequent.

According to the company YouMail, which makes call blocking software, New York reported the third highest volume of robocalls in the nation for the month of March.

Assemblywoman Yuh Lin Niou, provided audio recordings of some of the robocalls that she says have plagued New Yorkers recently.

“My name is Emily, and I’m calling because you stayed at one of your resorts in the past,” a woman’s voice intones. “And you qualify for a 75 percent savings on an amazing vacation getaway.”

Niou says in her district, which includes Chinatown in lower Manhattan, the scam messages are even customized in Chinese.

“And saying that we had a package or something that needed to be called back,” said Niou, who said some of the calls requested that money be paid, and some elderly constituents fell prey to the scam.

Chuck Bell is with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. He says many fall prey to the scams.

“An estimated 40 percent of robocalls are scam calls, amounting to some $350 million in financial losses each year for consumers,” said Bell.

He says it’s also even affecting emergency response systems, with 911 dispatchers reporting getting the calls.

Niou is sponsoring legislation in the Assembly that would impose new fines on telemarketing companies, of up to $2,000 per individual call, and give the state Attorney General new powers to investigate suspected robocalls.  

But the companies are often based offshore and not within the boundaries of the U.S., so they are difficult to regulate.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Brad Hoylman, says the measure also tries to prevent the calls from actually reaching people’s phones. It will require phone companies to make free software available to customers that blocks the calls.

“A number of providers offer call blocking technology, but they charge for it,” said Hoylman.

Political campaign robocalls would still be permitted under the measure, Hoylman says. But he says the bill leaves it up to the state’s Public Service Commission to make the final determination.

Hoylman says the federal Do Not Call Registry is no longer working adequately to prevent calls, and he hopes a new state law might cause New Yorkers to want to answer their phones again.

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