Cracking down on robocalls

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer wants to hang up on telemarketers who use automated dialing machines, known as robocalls, to flood homes with messages.

Schumer has propopsed the QUIET Act, legislation that would create tough new penalties and jail time for those who break the law.

“These robocalls plague us whether we are sitting down at dinner or popping in a DVD.” he said. “If robocallers weren’t going to stop, I had to become the Robocop.”

In New York, complaints made in 2013 to the Federal Trade Commission are up 275 percent over the past three years. In the North Country, there were 10,039 robocall complaints in 2013, according to the FTC.

Schumer said the problem isn’t just affecting New York, it’s a national trend.

In 1991, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, making it illegal for telemarketers to call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless consent is given. It established a maximum fine of $1,500 per unsolicited call for companies who broke the law. The law did not apply to a few groups like charity organizations, political organizations, some health-related companies and emergency phone calls.

This law worked for a time but is in need of an update, Schumer said.

“For a while, these laws were effective,” he said. “Only occasionally did a telemarketer break the law.”

But he said advancements in the technology have allowed corporations to call millions of homes and created a moral hazard where the profits far outweigh the punishment. Robocalls use computer software to dial a phone number and then either play a pre-recorded message or connect to a live person.

“It’s an invitation to break the law,” he said. “Existing laws, including the federal Do Not Call list are great tools to protect consumers, but only if they have real teeth that will stop illegal robocalls in their tracks.”

Schumer’s proposed legislation would turn a misdemeanor charge into a felony, increase the fine to $20,000 and add potential jail time of up to 10 years for the “worst repeat offenders.”

Complaints can be sent to the FTC on their Do Not Call website. The penalties will enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, along with the Justice Department.

The FTC said on its website that they have stopped billions of illegal robocalls. The scams offered fraudulent credit card services, auto warranty protection, medical discount cards, grant procurements and other scams.

This isn’t the first time Schumer has taken on telemarketers. He helped author legislation that created the National Do Not Call list, implemented in 2003. Currently, there are more than 209 million phone numbers in the registry.

Schumer said he believes the odds his legislation will pass are pretty good. He plans to start looking for bipartisan sponsors in the U.S. Senate.