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California AG Calls on Feds to Help Crack Down on Robocalls, AI

California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined 25 other top state attorneys to ask the federal government for an inquiry into how AI technology could make it more difficult to protect consumers from illegal scam calls and texts.

Closeup of a person holding a cellphone showing an incoming call from an unknown number.
(TNS) — Robocalls and texts, a common nuisance of modern life, are becoming more advanced and pernicious as AI technology improves. And a coalition of more than two dozen attorneys general is asking the federal government to act.

"In addition to being a daily annoyance, robocalls are often used by scammers to cause real financial damage," said Attorney General Rob Bonta in a statement Wednesday as he joined 25 other top state attorneys in response to a Federal Communications Commission inquiry into how AI technology might make it more difficult to protect consumers from illegal scam calls and texts.

"AI technology presents opportunities for new levels of deception by bad actors," Bonta added.

Common phone scams, like one that nearly bilked more than $15,000 from one Bay Area family, have gotten better as AI technology has made it possible to create convincing copies of loved ones' voices.

Bonta's office said robocalls are typically the No. 1 consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission year after year.

Most consumers experience robocalls and spam texts as unwanted nuisances. But Bonta's office said they are the most common way scammers make contact with potential victims.

The FCC estimated that fraudulent phone calls and texts led to more than $1.13 billion in losses across the country. The number of phone scam victims in the U.S. nearly tripled between 2017 and 2022, according to a Truecaller/Harris poll.

Bonta and the coalition of attorneys told the FCC that AI mimicking human voices should be classified as a form of "artificial voice" under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, arguing that "consumers therefore cannot be sent AI-generated robocalls that mimic a live caller without the consumer's prior express written consent."

Last year the FCC sought to crack down on what it called illegal telemarketing calls coming from overseas, pressuring Internet telecommunications companies to stop the traffic or face fines and penalties.

In 2022 Bonta and other law enforcement officials demanded the FCC turn off the spigot of scam calls they said came from overseas but which appear to come from U.S. numbers to fool people into answering, potentially handing over valuable personal information or money.

That summer Bonta announced an anti-robocall task force to take legal action against telecommunications providers bringing most of the overseas automated scam calls to the U.S.

Earlier last year Bonta and nearly every other attorney general in the U.S. sued Avid Telecom, alleging the company played a role in billions of illegal robocalls, including Social Security and Medicare scams among others.

The attorneys general of Pennsylvania, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., were also signatories on the letter.

©2024 the San Francisco Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.