Our view: Ending robocalls will give Texans back their phones
Austin, TX - It has become a recurring annoyance in the lives of Texans almost every day – receiving multiple automated calls, also known as robocalls, hawking everything from automobile warranties to student loan relief. In many cases, the calls appear to be coming from local numbers.
Unsuspecting people answer and find themselves on the receiving end of a recorded pitch imploring them to take advantage of a can’t-miss, cut-rate deal. According to data, robocalls and telemarketing calls are regularly at the top of the list of consumer complaints.
Well, the days of the incessant robocalls may be numbered here in Texas.
Earlier this week, the office of state Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that he and a coalition of 51 attorneys general had secured a nationwide agreement with a dozen of the country’s top voice service providers to implement a series of principles designed to undercut robocallers and give private citizens their phones back.
It was the state’s latest assault on robocalls, following a move in June when the consumer protection division of Paxton’s office joined with the Federal Trade Commission in “Operation Call It Quits,” leading to a series of legal actions in cases affecting Texans.
On another front, a new Texas law against the so-called practice of “spoofing,” where callers intentionally alter information transmitted to caller IDs in an attempt to hide their identities, takes effect today along with another 800 or so new laws resulting from the 2019 legislative session. The Texas statute was proposed by Ben Leman (R-Anderson).
According to the Texas Tribune, federal law already stipulates that telemarketers transmit a telephone number and, when possible, a name that matches the telemarketer or business on caller ID. The state law clarifies that the Texas attorney general can prosecute telemarketing companies that display misleading info on caller ID. It has no impact on telemarketers who make names and telephone numbers clear.
Along those lines, the country’s attorney generals have worked to rein in a practice that has generated as many as 1 billion calls per year. In a number of cases, the calls are meant to dupe and frighten people out of money and/or personal information.
“If you have been guilty of leaving your phone turned on, you know it is getting hard to participate in a worship service, watch a movie, or talk to your loved ones without being interrupted by a call from a fake phone number,” Paxton said in a statement released by his office.
As more and more people have given up land lines in favor of personal cell phones and the privacy that should come with one’s individual number, robocallers have followed, working their way around the do-not-call registries. When consumers block a call from one number, technology allows the caller to change one digit and initiate another call, creating an endless game of cellular dodgeball.
“Texans’ private phones are being taken over by constant calls, invading their privacy and all too often defrauding them of their hard-earned money,” Paxton said in the statement. “My office has a history of aggressively pursuing illegal telemarketers through litigation. We now look forward to working with voice service providers to squash scammers’ access to Texas. We won’t stop until the robocallers do.”
The robocalls, which in most cases are illegal, have significantly increased recently, because, according to Paxton’s office, Internet-powered phone systems have made it easy to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world while hiding behind fake caller ID information.
Voice providers have agreed to implement call-blocking technology at the network level at no cost to customers and make additional call-blocking and labeling tools available to customers for free in addition to several other moves. Likewise, phone companies will assist as well, including working with law enforcement and attorneys general to trace origins of illegal robocalls.
We appreciate the work of state and federal officials to bring robocalls to an end in Texas, and we share a few reminders to help people be on their guard. One thing everyone can do is enroll their cell phone number on state and federal do-not-call online lists. Both are free, and each has its own terms and policies.
That said, as many already know, scammers will work around do-not-call restrictions, which means consumers should always be cautious about information they provide over the phone, ensuring they are doing business with a legitimate, established company with which they have an existing business relationship.
And, while the legal wheels keep turning, consumers can continue to avoid robocalls by simply not answering calls from unrecognized numbers or disconnecting after it’s apparent the caller is an automated recording.
No one likes having their day interrupted by an unsolicited, automated caller, and no one likes having their cell phone co-opted by nefarious enterprises looking to bilk people out of their hard-earned coin.
The sooner Texans can enjoy robocall-free days, the better.