Robocall epidemic has Senators eyeing steep fines for scam artists

Two senators are renewing their push for legislation to curb the increasing amount of robocalls in the U.S. 

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A bill reintroduced this month from Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., would allow the Federal Communications Commission to impose civil fines of up to $10,000 per each violation of federal restrictions on telemarketing. The authority would extend up to three years after a robocall is made – an increase from the current one-year limit.

Alongside the new penalties, the measure would also direct the FCC to craft new federal regulations to further prevent unwanted calls or texts, including when telecommunications providers can block voice calls.

“Robocall scams are more than just a nuisance to folks, they’re a shameful tactic to prey on the vulnerable,” Thune said in a statement. The legislation “holds those people who participate in robocall scams and intentionally violate telemarketing laws accountable and does more to proactively protect consumers who are potential victims of these bad actors.”

A recent report from First Orion, a company focused on consumer protection against unwanted calls, found that scam calls increased to nearly 30 percent of all calls in 2018, up from 3.7 percent in the prior year. Robocalls are expected to rise to 44.6 percent of all calls in 2019, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based firm projected.

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In a 2018 testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee -- which Thune chaired before assuming his role as the second-highest ranking Republican in the chamber -- former Marketing Strategy Leaders President Adrian Abramovich told lawmakers there is “open source software that can be misused by someone to make thousands of automated phone calls with the click of a button.”

Abramovich was fined $120 million by the FCC for violating telemarking restrictions across as many as 100 million robocalls between 2015 and 2016.