Cracking down on ‘robocalls’

How many times after your phone has rung have you looked at the caller ID, seen it was an in-state number, and answered — only to have a recorded voice offer you help in paying off your student loans? Or lowering or credit card interest rate? Or selling you siding or windows?

Welcome to ‘robocalls,” those annoying automated communications that at times seem to outnumber the legitimate phone calls we receive.

According to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office, Americans received a record 48 million robocalls in 2018 and in 2016, 22 million Americans lost more than $9.5 billion to robocall scams that mainly target the most vulnerable in society like senior citizens, immigrants and people living with disabilities.

There is a national campaign to crack down on robocalls. Officials in every state and the District of Columbia have worked with 12 major phone companies to devise steps that may alleviate the problem. And Klobuchar joined Sen. Tina Smith and three other senators to introduce the Protecting American Consumers from Robocalls Act back in May. It would enhance the Telephone Consumers Protections Act and Do-Not-Call Registry by giving landline and cellular consumers alike the ability to petition for statutory damage for all unconsented-to telemarketing calls immediately after the first violation of the TCPA.

Will it end robocalling? No. As one official said, the bad guys always come up with ways to get around both government and private-sector attempts to curb them.

But it’s a start, and it should be followed up by a vigorous, nationwide campaign of prosecuting those who “spoof” legitimate phone numbers to make us think we’re receiving something other than a robocall. That’s fraud, after all, and there are laws against that.

Stiff fines, perhaps even a prison sentence or two, would do a world of good to end those who employ dishonesty in their robocalling practices.