U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, today discussed his bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, legislation he introduced with Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to combat annoying, illegal, and abusive robocalls.
On April 3, 2019, the Commerce Committee unanimously approved this legislation. On Thursday, April 11, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. EDT, Thune will convene a hearing titled, “Illegal Robocalls: Calling All to Stop the Scourge.” The hearing will examine the Federal Communications Commission’s inaugural report on robocalls, enforcement efforts against illegal robocallers, and the steps Congress is currently taking to provide consumers relief from illegal robocalls. The hearing will be livestreamed here.
Thune’s full remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, if there’s one thing pretty much every American can agree on, it’s that illegal robocalls are a major nuisance.
“Who hasn’t been annoyed after answering the phone and discovering it’s an automated message asking you to purchase some product or provide sensitive personal information?
“But of course, these calls aren’t merely a nuisance.
“Scammers use these calls to successfully prey on vulnerable populations – like the elderly, who may be less technologically savvy.
“And, Mr. President, it’s no surprise that people are deceived.
“I think most of us have received robocalls that sounded pretty credible.
“And the practice of spoofing numbers adds another layer of deception.
“Scammers can disguise the actual number they’re calling from so that the call looks like it’s coming from a legitimate number.
“So you may recognize the number calling you as a trustworthy local number, but the actual call may be from a scam artist.
“I remember an article from my home state a couple of years ago that reported that scammers had successfully spoofed the number of the Watertown Police Department.
“So to anyone who received that call, it looked as if it really was the Watertown Police Department calling.
“If the source looks credible and the call sounds credible, it can be difficult not to believe it.
“Which is why people fall prey to robocall scam artists every day, with sometimes devastating consequences.
“Scammers’ goal is to steal the kind of personal information that can be used to steal your money and your identity.
“And when scammers are successful, they can destroy people’s lives.
“Mr. President, there are laws and fines in place right now to prevent scam artists from preying on people through the telephone.
“But unfortunately these measures have been insufficient.
“Almost a year ago today, when I was chairman of the Commerce Committee, I subpoenaed Adrian Abramovich, a notorious mass robocaller, to testify before the committee.
“His testimony made it clear that current fines are insufficient to discourage robocallers.
“Robocallers just figure those fines into the cost of doing business.
“In addition, the Federal Communications Commission’s anti-robocall enforcement efforts are currently hampered by a tight time window for pursuing violations.
“To address these problems, at the end of last year I introduced the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or the TRACED Act.
“And last week, my bipartisan legislation passed the Commerce Committee by a unanimous vote.
“The TRACED Act provides tools to discourage illegal robocalls, protect consumers, and crack down on offenders.
“It expands the window in which the FCC can pursue intentional scammers from one year to three years, and in years two and three, it increases the financial penalty for those individuals making robocalls from zero dollars to $10,000 per call, to make it more difficult for robocallers to just figure fines into the cost of doing business.
“It also requires telephone service providers to adopt new call verification technologies that would help prevent illegal robocalls from reaching consumers.
“And, importantly, it convenes a working group with representatives from the Department of Justice, the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Commerce, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, state attorneys general, and others to identify ways to criminally prosecute illegal robocalling.
“Criminal prosecution of illegal robocalling can be challenging.
“Scammers are frequently based abroad, and can quickly shut down shop before authorities can get to them.
“But I believe we need to find ways to hold scammers criminally accountable.
“There are few things more despicable than preying on and exploiting the vulnerable, and scammers should face criminal prosecution for the damage they do.
“I’m very pleased that the TRACED Act has now moved to the full Senate for consideration.
“I’m grateful to Senator Markey for partnering with me on this legislation.
“And I’m pleased that this bipartisan legislation has been embraced by all 50 state attorneys general, by the commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, and by major industry associations and leading consumer groups.
“Later this week I will hold a hearing in the Commerce Committtee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, which I chair, to further examine the problem of illegal robocalling.
“And I will work to get the TRACED Act to the president’s desk as soon as possible.
“This legislation won’t prevent all illegal robocalling.
“But it’s a big step in the right direction.
“And I look forward to helping consumers by enacting the TRACED Act’s protections as soon as possible.”