Hoylman combatting robocalls with legislation

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou with representatives from AARP (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman urged the passage of legislation to curb robocalls on Friday, September 6 along with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and representatives from AARP and Consumer Reports, prior to an Assembly hearing on how to combat the pervasive calls. The Robocall Prevention Act, sponsored by Hoylman in the Senate and Niou in the Assembly, would effectively ban unwanted robocalls in the state of New York and the hearing examined actions to fight robocalls in addition to nuisance phone calls and spoofing.

The bill passed in the State Senate unanimously on June 14 but has not yet passed in the Assembly.

“This legislation that passed in the Senate passed with both Republican and Democratic support, which shows how widespread this issue is, how it’s impacting the constituents, how it’s hurting our seniors, how it’s defrauding our citizenry and something has to be done about it,” Hoylman said.

According to the YouMail Robocall Index, which estimates monthly robocall volume in the United States, almost 50 billion robocalls were placed to consumers in 2018, which is an all-time record. As of September 1, there have already been more than 38 billion robocalls this year. New York City ranks third out of all cities in the country in 2019, according to the index, with more than 1.3 billion robocalls, which is roughly 79 calls per person.

“Whether they tell you there’s a problem with your credit card or you want a free cruise, or you’re pre-approved for business, we all get them,” Hoylman said. “And most of those calls are scams, pure and simple. Others are harassing calls from debt collectors, and they have one thing in common. They are relentless.”

Hoylman also noted that New York State, which is fifth in the nation, has received more than 2.3 billion robocalls this year, putting the state on pace to break its record from last year, when New Yorkers received more than 3 billion robocalls.

“We’ve seen at the federal level, the House and the Senate are both attempting to reach some compromise over robocalls, but I don’t know about you, I don’t trust Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to come up with a compromise that’s going to address this problem in the state of New York,” Hoylman said. “So that’s why New York has to take action on robocalls. And the legislation that Assemblymember Niou and I carry would do just that.”

Hoylman and Niou’s legislation would ban the calls by requiring phone service providers to make call-blocking technology available to customers free of charge and exact state-level prohibitions against fraudulent caller ID spoofing by robocallers. The legislation would also allow New Yorkers to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and would require robocallers to comply with the request to stop calling or face significant penalties. The legislation would give the New York State Attorney General new authority to pursue penalties against illegal robocallers and would give New Yorkers a private right of action to go after violators themselves.

State Senator Brad Hoylman

The law would require the Department of State and the Department of Public Service to report annually on illegal robocalls made to New Yorkers. It would also allow courts to award treble damages for those who knowingly and willfully violate the law. The legislation would additionally strengthen protections for landlines, which have less protection than cell phones under federal law.

AARP, Consumer Reports, the National Consumer Law Center and the Public Utility Law Project have all endorsed the legislation. AARP, a nonprofit dedicated to representing people who are 50 and older, said that the scams disproportionately affect older people.

“We are very concerned about the fact that older adults are often targeted at a higher rate for robocall-type scams, of telephone scams, than any other demographic and it’s largely because they’re viewed to be more vulnerable, which isn’t always the case,” said AARP Associate State Director Chris Widelo. “But when you’re oversampled at that rate, you’re more likely to get more victims who are older and because they often have a little bit of money, [scammers] know that there’s something that they can go after. Everybody’s unfairly targeted via telephone scams, but [older adults] often become more vulnerable to this type of fraud.”

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