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Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Senator Bob Casey Call on FCC to Let Telephone Providers Block Robocalls that Scam Pennsylvania Seniors

Authored By: Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

October 4, 2017
 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and U.S. Senator Bob Casey took joint action today to protect Pennsylvania seniors and consumers from robocalls disguised to hide or mask where they come from. Attorney General Shapiro and Sen. Casey sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commssion, asking the FCC to implement without further delay a rule to let telephone providers block the offending robocalls.

Attorney General Shapiro first advocated for this action in July, when he and 28 other Attorneys General asked the FCC to allow phone service providers to block robocalls originating as “spoofed” or invalid numbers, along with several other kinds of automated calls – all designed to confuse the call recipient into not understanding where the call is coming from.

Today, testifying before a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging on the issue at Senator Casey’s request, Attorney General Shapiro detailed the action he is taking with Pennsylvania’s senior senator.

“I know Senator Casey shares my views on this issue. He and I are sending a joint letter to the FCC today to implement their proposed rule without further delay,” Attorney General Shapiro testified. “It has been nearly eight months since the FCC first proposed this rule. During that time, it is likely that 19 billion calls have been placed using robocalling technology. We need the FCC to help us put a stop to these harassing and predatory calls. This is a top priority for my office.”

Attorney General Shapiro’s and Senator Casey’s joint advocacy to the FCC is available here.

“We have a sacred responsibility to the generations who came before us, and should be doing everything within our power as quickly as possible to ensure that older Americans do not lose one more penny to thieves pretending to be the IRS or a grandchild in need of rescue,” Attorney General Shapiro and Senator Casey wrote to the FCC.  “Making it harder for these con artists to appear as though they are calling from a government agency or legitimate business, as your proposed rule would do, will go a long way. … Every day that you delay the implementation of the proposed rule, more seniors fall victim to a fraud or scam.  It is time you take action on this rule to help protect friends and loved ones.”

The joint action came as Attorney General Shapiro testified today before the Senate Special Committee on Aging on steps that his office is taking to protect seniors from financial predators and help them learn how to avoid scams. America has 47 million seniors; 2.2 million of them are Pennsylvanians.

“As the chief law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am responsible for protecting all Pennsylvanians and their roles as consumers,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Protecting vulnerable seniors from unscrupulous scammers is one of my most important duties.”

Today’s hearing examined ways to reduce illegal robocalls and enforce harsher penalties for those who target seniors using telephone scams.  Attorney General Shapiro outlined three main points: seniors’ vulnerability to scams and the impact scams have on them, IRS impersonation scams, and Pennsylvania’s Do Not Call registry and unwanted robocalls.

Given many seniors’ financial resources today, scams are increasingly tailor-made for seniors and their circumstances, including Medicare, funerals and grandparent scams, Shapiro testified. More than one third of seniors have experienced some form of financial abuse, including being victimized by a scammer, and victims lose an average of $36,000.

“We estimate American seniors lose more than $36 billion a year to scams and financial abuse,” Attorney General Shapiro testified. “But discussing the impact of these scams in terms of billions of dollars obscures the real impact of these crimes on the individual. Nearly a million seniors in the United States have been forced to skip meals because they lost money to a scammer.”

The Office of Attorney General earmarks significant resources to investigate complaints from seniors. The office conducts educational outreach to prevent seniors from becoming victimized from scams like the IRS impersonation scam, where criminals call and falsely claim to represent the Internal Revenue Service and demand payment and threaten arrest.

“Our agents have developed a pneumonic around the word “scam”: Sudden Contact, Act now, Money or information required,” Attorney General Shapiro testified. “If you don’t recognize a number calling you, let it go to voicemail. Take time, listen to a message, and even ask someone else for advice; it can be the difference between avoiding a scam and losing thousands of dollars to a criminal.”

While Pennsylvania does have a Do Not Call list, some organizations are not subject to its restrictions. Political campaigns and nonprofits are exempt, and any business that had a relationship with a person in the last 12 months can disregard the list. Still, the Do Not Call list drastically reduces the number of unwanted calls seniors receive and makes it easier for them to ignore calls from unknown numbers.

“We’re working every day to protect Pennsylvania’s seniors and consumers from scams – from these robocalls and a wide variety of other scams,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Education and outreach helps with prevention, but we also need the FCC to act, so we can get these spoofed calls, intended to trick and mislead Pennsylvanians, blocked and shut down for good.”

Original Press Release