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Senate backs bill to stem flood of robocalls plaguing cell phones

Bipartisan effort would increase civil penalties to $10,000 per call

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., sponsored the bill to tackle illegal robocalls. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., sponsored the bill to tackle illegal robocalls. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers are fed up with the barrage of scam and nuisance calls plaguing them and their constituents and on Thursday, the Senate passed a bipartisan measure to combat robocalls.

Senators voted, 97-1, to pass a bill (S 151) designed to authenticate and block robocalls and enforce penalties on scammers who use automated equipment to pump phones full of bogus calls.

South Dakota Republican John Thune teamed up with Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey to sponsor the measure, which would ramp up civil penalties to $10,000 per call and give law enforcement tools to pursue robocallers.

“When a New England Patriots fan and a Green Bay Packers fan can work together, there’s some hope for the country,” Thune told reporters after the vote. 

Markey echoed the enthusiasm for working on something that Americans are agitated about. 

“There are no blue robocalls. There are no red robocalls. There are only robocalls that drive every family in America crazy every single day,” said Markey. 

Thune said that while robocalls are a problem across the country, certain people are at higher risk of falling for scammers ploys to steal personally identifying information or money. 

“Illegal robocalls, I think we can all agree, are a major nuisance,” said Thune.  “Scammers use these calls to successfully pray on vulnerable populations like elderly Americans who are sometimes less technologically savvy.”

In recent years technological advances have allowed robocallers to target thousands of phones with minimal effort, which some advocates say has rendered the Do Not Call Registry established in 2003 ineffective.

“Perhaps the most important part of the TRACED Act is that law enforcement will now join the battle,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The measure would bring together the FCC, Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and departments of Justice, Commerce, State, Homeland Security and other relevant federal agencies, state attorneys general, and other non-federal entities to report to Congress on how to improve deterrence and criminal prosecution of robocall scams at the federal and state level.

“This is something that has captured the American people’s interests, something that they wanted to see their elected officials take action on, and that that they are the impetus for this,” said Thune. 

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