By Representative Bradley Byrne, (AL-1)
Seniors are the most civically engaged age group in our country. Since getting elected to the House of Representatives in 2013, I have held over 150 town hall meetings across my district in Southwest Alabama, and local seniors overwhelmingly participate at a higher proportion than others.
At almost every one of these town halls, I hear concerns from seniors about robocalls and phone scams. Unfortunately, data shows that seniors are more susceptible to fraud and therefore are disproportionately targeted by criminals seeking sensitive information.
In recent years, the problem has gotten out of control. I’m sure, like me, you are getting countless spam phone calls every day. Many of these numbers even show up on caller ID as local calls despite often coming from overseas.
It is time we do something about it! Fortunately, blocking robocalls and spam calls is one area where I believe we can find bipartisan support.
This summer, the House passed the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. This bill would take the simple but important step of updating existing definitions of a robocall to aid in enforcement of existing laws. Importantly, this bill also includes provisions requiring callers to verify the accuracy of their information and other protections for you and me.
The Senate passed a similar bill called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act. This legislation, which I also support, will allow federal fines of up to $10,000 per call for those who break telemarketing laws. It is time we hold these crooks accountable.
If you remember your civics lessons, you know that the House and Senate must agree on a final bill before it is sent to the President’s desk for his signature. I am hopeful these bills will be combined, or that both will be passed, so we can get these protections against robocalls and spammers passed into law.
While Congress continues working on these issues, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- First, you can learn to recognize fraud. If a caller informs you of a problem with your health insurance coverage or social security, an outstanding warrant for your arrest, or an expiring computer software license, your antenna should go up.
- If the caller asks for action on your end, particularly for any personal or financial information, you should be wary. Ask questions to confirm the caller’s identity or ask for the information in writing.
- Don’t be intimidated. If the caller gets aggressive and warns that you will be taken into custody if you do not supply a credit card number, ask yourself if that is a realistic scenario. The bottom line is to use common sense and never be afraid to push back.
- Finally, if you believe you are being targeted by fraudsters or robocallers, you can report it by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the National Do Not Call Registry, and your local law enforcement.
Stopping robocalls will bring an end to an annoying practice, but it will also help crack down on fraud and scams. With these criminals always utilizing new methods and technology to break the law, Congress must address this serious and growing problem in a bipartisan manner.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.