State lawmakers aim to curb robocalls

Apr 5, 2019
Originally published on April 4, 2019 3:28 pm

When state lawmakers return later this month for a post-budget session, they hope to tackle several issues, including trying to curb the number of robocalls that New Yorkers receive.              

The call are annoying and becoming more frequent. According to the company You Mail, which makes call-blocking software, New York reported the third-highest volume of robocalls in the nation for the month of March.

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou provided audio recordings of some of the robocalls that she said have plagued New Yorkers recently.

“My name is Emily, and I’m calling because you stayed at one of our resorts in the past,” a woman’s voice intones. “And you qualify for a 75% savings on an amazing vacation getaway.”

Niou said in her district, which includes Chinatown in lower Manhattan, the scam messages are even customized in Chinese.

“And saying that we had a package or that there was something that needed to be called back,” said Niou, who added that some elderly constituents have fallen prey to calls that requested money to be paid.

Chuck Bell is with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. He said many people fall for the scams.

“An estimated 40% of robocalls are scam calls, amounting to some $350 million in financial losses each year to consumers,” Bell said.

He said it’s even affecting emergency response systems, with 911 dispatchers reporting getting the calls.

Niou is sponsoring legislation in the Assembly that would impose new fines of up to $2,000 per call on telemarketing companies and give the state attorney general new powers to investigate suspected robocalls.

But the companies are often based offshore and not within the boundaries of the United States, so they are difficult to regulate.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Brad Hoylman, said the measure also tries to prevent the calls from even reaching people’s phones. It would require phone companies to make free call-blocking software available to customers.

“A number or providers offer call-blocking technology, but they charge for it,” Hoylman said.

Campaign robocalls would still be permitted under the measure, Hoylman said. But he said the bill leaves it up to the state’s Public Service Commission to make the final determination on such calls.

Hoylman said the federal Do Not Call Registry is no longer working adequately to prevent calls, and he hopes a new state law might cause New Yorkers to want to answer their phones again.