Minnesota Lawmakers Work to Stem Unlawful Robocalls

Democrats in the Minnesota House are readying tough legislation aimed at so-called robocalls, the unexpected, unwanted calls — often with criminal intentions — that nearly everyone with a phone constantly receives.

by J. Patrick Coolican, Star Tribune / October 15, 2019
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(TNS) — Democrats in the Minnesota House say they are readying tough legislation aimed at so-called robocalls, the unexpected, unwanted calls — often with criminal intentions — that nearly everyone with a phone constantly receives.

Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, said the legislation would be the "toughest" in the country.

"The explosion of fraudulent robocalls demands a strong response," said Stephenson, a first-term lawmaker and a prosecutor. The Legislature will reconvene in February.

The Department of Commerce reports that Minnesotans have received more than 387 million robocalls this year, or 58 per person with a phone. In 2018, Minnesotans received twice as many of these calls as the year before.

Robocallers often disguise their phone numbers, a practice called "spoofing." By using false numbers that display from the same area code as the recipient — or even appear to be the numbers of friends or family — robocallers can induce their targets to pick up their calls.

They often have fraudulent intent. YouMail, California company that offers a robocall-blocking app for cellphones, estimates that nearly two-thirds of the robocalls targeting Minnesotans are either scams or illegal telemarketing.

Stephenson said his legislation would make the calls illegal, rising to a felony if used for the purpose of identity theft or swindle. The bill would give tools to consumers, state regulators and the attorney general to take action.

The bill would also mandate that phone companies implement anti-robocall technology at no cost to consumers.

Efforts to pass federal anti-robocall legislation have stalled for years, but both the House and Senate passed separate measures earlier this year, raising the possibility that Congress could send a bill to the White House in the coming months.

Absent federal action, Stephenson said Minnesota needs to act.

The Federal Communications Commission voted in June to authorize companies to automatically enroll customers in a call filter service. Verizon, in an August news release, said the company had taken that step on all Android devices. Apple iOS users can download the app for free.

©2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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