Tester Cracks Down on Abusive Robocalls
Senator to Robocaller: If I want to buy something, I’ll call you—don’t call me
(U.S. Senate) - "I'll call you. Don't call me." That's the message U.S. Senator Jon Tester is sending on behalf of Montanans to companies that harass people with nonstop robocalls.
During today's Commerce Committee hearing, Tester grilled a man accused of making nearly 100 million robocalls in just three months.
"First of all, Mr. Abramovich, if you didn't want to draw attention to yourself you should have sent back the request that the Chairman made and answered the questions," Tester told Adrian Abramovich who, despite being forced to testify, refused to answer many of the Committee's questions.
Abramovich-who is facing a $120 million fine from federal regulators-had previously argued that the consequences of his robocalls were negligible because less than two percent of recipients had actually picked up the phone and engaged in a substantive conversation.
"Second of all," Tester continued, "if you don't think two percent is a lot, that's twice the population that lives in Montana-two million people that you hit. Third of all, if I want to buy something, I'll call you-don't call me."
The hearing, entitled "Abusive Robocalls and How We Can Stop Them," also featured representatives from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Telecom Association, and the National Consumer Law Center.
Tester questioned these folks about the harm robocalls are doing to businesses, what kind of recourse individuals have when they receive these calls, and how regulators can crack down on robocalls from overseas.
"Does the person who receives the call have any recourse within the courts?" Tester asked a representative from the FTC. "I mean, I've got to tell you, when I do happen to pick up the phone because I don't have my glasses on and I think it's somebody that it isn't, I always tell them I'm going to go get recourse through the courts and when I get done they're not going to be able to breathe-but I don't know that I can do that."
In addition to empowering individual consumers, Tester is also working to give regulators the tools they need to crack down on robocallers by introducing the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act. The current statute of limitations on robocall violations is just one year, despite the fact that tracking down perpetrators can take months. Tester's bill will increase the statute of limitations to three years, giving the FCC more time to build a case against robocallers like Abramovich.
"In rural America, when we want to talk to a friend, order a new piece of equipment, or schedule an appointment, we still pick up the phone," Tester said after introducing the bill. "That means non-stop robocalls are not only a nuisance, but a liability for folks across Montana. If we stop picking up the phone, folks can't call for help, parents can't keep track of their kids, and small businesses suffer. Even worse, the folks who do pick up the phone are often defrauded by these scams. That's why we need the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act, because this is hardly a victimless crime."
The FTC received more than 4.5 million robocall complaints in 2017-up from 3.4 million the year before. In anticipation of today's hearing Tester asked Montanans about their experience with robocalls and the feedback he received confirms that folks are fed up.
"Soon I'm going phoneless!" wrote Cathy from Butte. "I get at least 10 unsolicited calls a day! Most people I know won't answer their phones at all! And the elderly are especially targeted! In the last year of my mother's life she was afraid to answer her phone."
"We get at least six calls on each of our cell phones a day and just as many on our land lines," wrote Sharon from Helena. "They're cloning numbers so they look like local calls and I have even received local numbers with local business names that are robocalls. You can't get away from them, as soon as I block one they come up with a new one!"
"I feel harassed and stressed by these companies and by a system that allows them to exist. They have ruined the tools we use to connect with each other and as a consequence, damaged our communities and our trust," wrote Robin from Missoula.
You can access a copy of the Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act HERE.