New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Colonie Monday to promote a new bill addressing fraudulent robocalls.
If you own a phone, odds are you’ve received a robocall. Probably a lot more than one.
Speaking at the Colonie Senior Services Center, Schumer says New Yorkers received over 290 million robocalls – automated phone calls with pre-recorded messages – just this past month.
The Democrat says 42 percent of those were from scammers. Standing alongside Schumer, Albany resident Mckenzie Pope says she’s been the target of a wide range of scams.
"A lot of times it's the same thing over and over again," Pope says. "It's a credit card I don't own, or an account from a bank that I have no idea where they're located, or my favorite: the police are coming for me, I need to buy $1,000 of iTunes gift cards and send it to some random person online."
Schumer says robocalls initially dropped following the installation of the National Do Not Call Registry in 2003, but improvements in technology have since allowed “the bad guys to get ahead of the good guys.”
“First they got a technology where you can be anywhere and push a button and it’ll make a thousand calls – you don’t have to dial it anymore, it’s like computerized," Schumer explains. "But second and worse, they figured out ways to hide their phone numbers so you can never track them.”
In a practice called “spoofing,” robocallers can disguise their numbers with local area codes to seem more legitimate and trick people into picking up. Schumer says residents of Syracuse have been particularly bothered over the past two weeks as phones rang late into the night – sometimes as late as 3 a.m.
“And some of these calls, many of them – I’ll tell you the story – many of them come from overseas," he notes. "And if you call back, even though you’re dialing the 5-1-8, or in Syracuse it was 3-1-5, you get a charge for an international call late at night.”
Schumer’s legislation is the bipartisan TRACED Act, led by Republican John Thune of South Dakota and Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Schumer says the bill helps coordinate law enforcement agencies to crack down on robocallers by raising fines to $10,000 a call and extending the statute of limitations from one year to three. Most importantly, Schumer says it forces carriers to help fight back against spoofing technology.
“The carriers – Verizon, AT&T – they can arrange it so the real number comes through. It’s an international number, and they catch it and stop it – they don’t let them do this," Schumer says. "So we would require every single carrier to have this system which will block the robocalls and they never come to you.”
Schumer feels confident the bill will pass within the next couple of months.
"You know all the fights — Democrats, Republicans, partisanship? This one will move like a hot knife through butter. Everyone wants to stop these and everyone gets these calls," he notes. "Maybe even the president, who knows."
Until then, he recommends recipients refrain from answering or returning calls from numbers they don’t recognize. But Mckenzie Pope has received 15 robocalls in the past week, and as a young mother, “not answering the phone” doesn’t really feel like an option.
“I have two young children, one of which is going to be starting preschool, and his preschool will be starting to call me, possibly to pick him up if he becomes ill," Pope notes. "Their doctors’ offices call me to let me know if they need to reschedule an appointment, confirm appointments.”
According to the “Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009,” robocalls are illegal if used for the purpose of causing harm or fraud.