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Smith, Klobuchar co-signs bills to combat surge of robocalls

This week, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., signed on to a bill that would increase penalties against telemarketers who spam Americans with robocalls and promote call authentication and blocking technologies.

Robocalls are on the rise, with one source reporting an increase of 50% in robocalls from February to July of last year. The legislation is also supported by the senior senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

The bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act increases penalties for fraudulent telemarketers, while also implementing measures to proactively protect consumers from receiving unwanted robocalls. The bill was introduced by Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and John Thune, R-S.D.

"In an era when the onslaught of unwanted and abusive robocalls is on the rise, it is essential that we step up enforcement," Smith stated in a news release. "By strengthening the government's ability to bring enforcement action against abusive robocallers and directing voice providers to implement technology that screen for robocalls in advance, we are doing our part to put a dent in telemarketing fraud."

According to the release, if enacted the act would:

• Broaden the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call on people who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions.

• Extend the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed. Under current law, the FCC has only one year to do so, and the FCC has told the committee that "even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement" would improve enforcement against willful violators.

• Bring together the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other relevant federal agencies, as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams.

• Require voice service providers to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers' phones.

• Direct the FCC to initiate rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers.