DENVER -- Colorado’s attorney general is joining a new effort to stop robocall scams in their tracks. This week, Phil Weiser joined a bipartisan coalition of 54 attorneys general to support the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.
The TRACED Act requires phone carriers to implement a technology to identify where calls are coming from.
The move comes as more phone calls are coming from scammers than ever before. An estimated 26.3 billion of these calls happened in 2018 alone across the U.S., according to the spam call monitoring service Hiya.
“I’ve heard from people that this is destroying their ability to stay in touch with people,” Weiser said.
Weiser says even he occasionally received those fraud phone calls, which can be intimidating.
“The threat was I was going to be arrested. I’m the Attorney General so I knew this was a prank call but other people, their natural instinct is to say, ‘Oh my God! I’m facing serious consequences, what do I do?’” he said.
An estimated 120 million of those robocalls happened in Colorado, averaging out to more than 20 per person. They were the top complaint from consumers to the Colorado AG’s office last year.
“Robocalls have doubled over the past couple of years. This year, predictions are that half of all phone calls are robocalls, spam calls that we don’t want,” Weiser said.
With changing technology, more and more of those calls are masked to look like they are coming from familiar area codes so that people are more likely to answer them.
The TRACED Act lays out a timeline for when service providers need to have the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens or STIR/SHAKEN technology.
That technology would better identify where a call is coming from so that people can block or ignore scam calls.
“Another option is people can direct those calls right to voicemail but that requires a technological change. We need the FCC to have the tools to adopt this change,” Weiser said.
There are ways for consumers to opt out of telemarketing calls such as the national Do Not Call Registry.
However, Weiser says scammers who are already breaking the law with these robocalls aren’t going to adhere to those registries and won’t change their habits unless they are forced.
Beyond identifying where the calls are coming from for the benefit of consumers, supporters of the bill are hoping that it will help the federal government and law enforcement agencies find the fraudsters and possibly prosecute them.
“This is a big business for the scammers. We have to get the tools so that we can address the scammers and, in some cases, people need to go to jail who are engaging in criminal fraud,” Weiser said.
However, Weiser admitted that it would be difficult to prosecute scammers who are working from outside of the U.S.
For now, he expects the calls to get worse before anything changes. In the meantime, he is warning people to be more skeptical of calls they receive, to not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize and don’t give out personal information over the phone without verifying who you are talking to.
“If you want peace of mind call those agencies directly,” Weiser said.