Politics & Government

New Kansas lawmaker seeks crackdown on robocalls, fake number spoofing

Consumer tips to avoid falling victim to robocall scams

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai provides some tips to help consumers avoid falling victim to illegal robocalls and maliciously spoofed calls.
Up Next
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai provides some tips to help consumers avoid falling victim to illegal robocalls and maliciously spoofed calls.

Bill Rhiley hasn’t even been sworn in as a state lawmaker yet, but he’s already filed a bill taking aim at shady telemarketers who use robocalls and fake phone numbers to try to get you to listen to their sales pitches.

Rhiley, R-Wellington, has pre-filed House Bill 2004, which seeks to set limits on the use of robocalling equipment and crack down on “neighbor spoofing,” the practice of making distant calls display as local numbers on caller ID.

Rhiley, who was elected in November and will take office Jan. 14, said he wanted to get the jump on a bill because he’s heard many complaints from voters — and been annoyed himself — by calls that appear to be from Kansas but are actually automated sales pitches from telemarketers in other states or overseas.

Although it’s not a new problem, Rhiley said sleazy marketers have gotten more brazen recently and he’s even had them force calls through to his phone by spoofing his own phone number.

“Three weeks ago, I got five calls in one day from myself and the next day, I got three calls from myself,” he said. “Typically you can block with your cell phone other people’s numbers coming in, but it’s kind of hard to block your own number.”

HB 2004 would try to stop spoofing by prohibiting anyone, including a phone company, from providing local phone numbers to an out-of-state entity unless the number is openly listed “so that a member of the general public could determine the source of the telephone number by contacting their telecommunications provider.”

The bill would also require that companies that use automated calling equipment obtain permission in advance from the person being called, or have a human employee on the line at the start of the call to get that permission before the recorded message begins.

Exceptions to the robocall regulations would be made for debt collection calls and companies such as utilities, internet providers or cable TV companies that already have an ongoing business relationship with the consumer being called.

Spoofing is generally illegal under federal regulations, although there are exceptions.

Allowable uses include when a business places a call and displays its toll-free number, or when a physician calls from a cell phone but sets it so the office number comes up on the patient’s caller ID, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Violations of no-call lists and anti-spoofing regulations are notoriously difficult to prosecute, because the calls often originate from offshore beyond the reach of state and federal prosecutors.

Sheer volume is also a problem. An estimated 30 billion unwanted and illegal robocalls are placed to U.S. consumers each year.

However, the FCC has had some successes.

In May, the agency levied a record $120 million fine against a Florida company that had used robocalls and spoofed major travel sites such as Marriott and Trip Advisor to peddle vacation packages and timeshares. It followed that up with an $87 million fine against a North Carolina company that made more than 21 million illegal calls selling insurance contracts.

Violations of the proposed House Bill 2004 could be prosecuted as a violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Rhiley said it’s his intention to provide state prosecutors with more authority to act under state law against rogue telemarketing.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt has also made fighting marketing misbehavior a priority.

Three weeks ago, he announced Kansas has joined a working group with 40 other states and telecommunications industry partners to try to find a technical solution to block illegal calls and spoofing.

Rhiley is inviting Kansas phone customers to get in touch with him so they can share their stories of robocalls and spoofing with their lawmakers and provide testimony during committee hearings.

Because his official e-mail isn’t active yet, Rhiley is asking consumers to contact him through his campaign web site at www.rhileyforkansas.com.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.