By Sabina Mollot
Just call him Robo-call Cop.
Like any other New Yorker, State Senator Brad Hoylman has come to view his phone with a sense of dread each time it rings thanks to near-daily scam calls.
Popular ones to hit local communities lately include the Apple iCloud shutoff scam and another claiming money is owed to Con Ed.
In Hoylman’s case, the Greenwich Village resident said it’s recently been a steady mix of callers instructing him to call back about his credit card account, announcements that he’s won a free cruise (complete with a louder than necessary cruise ship horn blast) and messages in Chinese. The Chinese language calls come from numbers that appear to be local with 212, 917 and 646 area codes.
But, said Hoylman, “Those are spoofed calls made overseas.”
To combat the scam scourge, the senator has proposed legislation that would require phone companies to offer consumers tools, free of charge, on landlines as well as cell phones, to block or divert robocalls.
If they don’t, they’ll be fined $500 “for every consumer they don’t do this for,” said Hoylman. The mitigation technology, he stressed, already exists, but at least one phone company he knows of is charging customers for this. The legislation “shifts the onus from the call and call center from overseas and the consumer (to the phone company). They can shut this off like a spigot.”
The legislation would also require that all callers must obtain the consumer’s consent before sending any non-emergency autodialed call and establishes a private right of action for individuals who are illegally targeted. Consumers would be able to rescind their consent.
Naturally, Hoylman’s expecting plenty of pushback from phone companies.
“We expect that the industry will try to absolve themselves of responsibility,” he said. However, he’s prepared to argue, “This isn’t a problem that consumers have created.”
His next step is to gather support and co-sponsorships for the legislation. It’s already been endorsed by the Consumers Union, who Hoylman worked with on drafting it.
In a press release, he offered some background on just how far-reaching the trend of scam robo-calls has grown.
Americans received an estimated 3.2 billion automated scam calls in March. Unwanted robocalls have also disproportionately targeted New Yorkers, as the 917 area code in Greater New York City ranks as the fifth worst impacted area code in the United States. While protections such as the federally imposed “Do Not Call Registry” help prevent legitimate companies from calling during dinner time, it’s of no use against scammers.
Scam calls are also the top complaint Hoylman hears about from constituents.
“Consumers continue to be harassed daily by unwanted robocalls,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for the Consumers Union. “These calls not only compromise consumers’ privacy, but too often, robocalls are also scams that can cost them millions. Swift action is needed. Senator Hoylman’s legislation will extend legal protections against unwanted robocalls, and ensure that all New York consumers have access to effective, no-cost tools to stop them.”