Senate passes measure aimed at robocalls

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a bill aimed at thwarting illegal and predatory robocalls and spoofing.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, dubbed T.R.A.C.E.D., gives agencies more time to find violators, enacts greater penalties, supports call authentication and blocking adoption and joins federal agencies and state attorneys general to improve the prosecution of robocallers who intentionally violate the law.

Senate Bill 151, adopted 97-1, now goes to the House of Representatives. Voting no was Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman of Ohio.

West Virginia is part of a multi-state coalition of attorneys general urging passage of the legislation.

“Our office constantly receives reports from working people around the state about scam calls, and every week we gather more evidence that scam calls are hurting these people,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said.

Manchin cited a study by First Orion that said 44.6 percent of calls to mobile phones in 2019 will be spam.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, we as Americans can all agree on one thing, spam and robocalls are just absolutely awful,” Manchin said.

T.R.A.C.E.D. will:

* Expand the authority of the FCC to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally ignore telemarketing restrictions and extend the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed. Existing law limits the FCC to one year.

* Bring together the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other relevant federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities, to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams.

* Require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.

* Direct the FCC to initiate rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers.

“Robocalls are more than a nuisance; they’re dangerous and predatory,” Capito, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said. “Increasing penalties and giving the appropriate authorities more tools to go after these bad actors is a no-brainer.”