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- President Trump on Monday signed the TRACED Act, which will increase fines for robocalls and add other measures that experts hope will decrease phone scams over time.
- Americans receive billions of robocalls each year, and the technology to make robocalls has become cheaper and easier to access over recent years.
- The new law also requires that phone companies create systems to block spam calls from phones without charging consumers extra.
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A new anti-robocall law signed by President Trump on Monday could make spam calls a little less frequent in the near future, The Associated Press reported – but don’t expect robocalls to disappear fully anytime soon.
The law, called the TRACED Act, won’t stop robocalls today, but it does give the Federal Communications Commission more tools to prosecute spam callers. Among other rules, the law increases fines for robocalls, increases time for legal prosecution, and requires phone companies to create systems that recognize spoofed calls and stop them before they reach the consumer, according to TechCrunch.
Spoofed numbers are calls with fake Caller IDs than the actual number being called from. They often trick people by having the same area code as the recipient, or by appearing to come from a government agency. Even though this practice was already illegal, it happens frequently.
Phone companies under the new law will be required to eventually identify and stop spoofed calls on cell phones; the FCC is also requiring that these companies find an alternative tool to stop spoofed calls for landlines.
As part of the law, phone companies will not be allowed to charge more for either of these anti-robocall services.
While the increased preventative measures may help people avoid the onslaught of robocalls, so far fines have proven ineffective. In 2018, the FCC fined one of the biggest sources of spam robocalls a record $120 million, which Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner with the FCC, wrote was like “emptying the ocean with a teaspoon,” as billions of calls went out each month even after the fine. Robocall scammers are often located outside the US, which makes them difficult targets for prosecution.
There is one part of the new law that will likely be effective: Carriers must start automatically blocking spam calls from their customers’ phones, sending the calls straight to voicemail. The law, however, does not specify a date by which companies must be using those tools.
Experts are cautiously optimistic that this law might actually decrease the number of spam robocalls, and people who fall for their scams. Maureen Mahoney of Consumer Reports called the law a “big victory,” but Margot Saunders, a lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center, told MarketWatch in December that while the bill was a step forward, it gained support because it codified a practice of filtering spam calls that was already starting. After lobbying from collections agencies, the bill that was signed into law is a less harsh version of the original bill.
Americans get billions of robocalls every month, and cheap software makes them an easy tool for scammers. In August, a Business Insider article found that within minutes, anyone can set up a robocalling network and call millions of people. While some robocalls are legal, like calls from a pharmacy about a prescription, or from an airline about a delayed flight, others are scams designed to trick or scare people into paying. According to a 2018 New York Times report, a few of the most common robocall scams were claims of problems with a credit card, promises of student loan forgiveness, and accusations of owed taxes to a fake IRS or government agency.
Phone makers have taken their own steps to help users avoid robocalls. Apple’s iOS 13 introduced a feature to send unknown calls straight to voicemail. Google’s latest Pixel update automatically silences unknown calls. Apps for Androids on the Google Play Store can intercept calls from scammers, and at least one, Robokiller, even uses its own bots to keep scammers on the phone to waste their time and prevent them from making more calls.