AG Ferguson pushes for change on state laws related to robocalls

Dec 29, 2022, 6:43 AM

Photo from KIRO 7

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is saying that the state’s laws are badly out of date and in need of an update when it comes to dealing with illegal robocalls.

The AG spoke to KIRO 7 Wednesday morning about a bill he is trying to get through the Washington legislature. Robocalls have been received by millions of Washington residents according to the AG, and at best they’re just an annoyance, but at worst they’re a crime. Ferguson says legislation — the Robocall Scam Protection Act — could help deal with all of it.

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Ferguson says currently, no Washington state law explicitly prohibits a company from contacting individuals on the federal Do Not Call Registry against their will. The Robocall Scam Protection Act will make these calls a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

The AG says in 2021, Washington residents received more than 616 million robocalls; roughly 260 million were tied to scams. He also cited a survey that says more than 835,000 Washingtonians lost money to scam robocalls in 2021.

Ferguson says the proposed updates to the law would target illegal robocallers by making it a crime to robocall someone on the Do Not Call registry. The act would also prohibit robocallers from “spoofing” their calls. Ferguson says that’s a technique where scammers use false or deceptive caller ID to fool people getting the call.

The new law could also allow for civil litigation against telecommunications providers, Ferguson said.

“Right now, even if you sign up for that DNCR, there’s not a specific state law that forbids somebody from making robocalls to you,” Ferguson said. “There are federal laws in place but it’s far more cumbersome for a state AG to utilize a federal law in a state court.”

Ferguson admitted that his office has used federal laws to try to prosecute illegal robocallers and hold them accountable, but it’s not an ideal process. An update on the state law would allow his office to go after illegal robocalls.

Ferguson says scam robocalls often try to scare older adults into handing over money or access to personal money accounts. The callers also try to trick consumers into thinking they’ve gotten a refund from a legit company like Apple or Amazon. Often the calls threaten arrest or some sort of punitive action unless someone pays the caller.

Washington’s current anti-robocalling law is weak and out-of-date. The Robocall Scam Protection Act, HB 1051, modernizes the law and makes it a violation of the Consumer Protection Act to:

  • Robocall someone on the Do Not Call Registry;
  • Deliberately falsify the caller ID display to disguise the caller’s identity; and
  • Knowingly facilitate illegal robocalls if you are a voice service provider.

The legislation is part of AG Ferguson’s anti-robocalling initiative that he launched this year to combat fraudulent, harassing and illegal robocalls.

“It’s time to stop illegal robocalls,” Ferguson said. “The legislature must give Washingtonians stronger and clearer legal protections against the daily bombardment of illegal robocalls — and provide additional tools to my office to hold bad actors accountable.”

“Our seniors, youth and most financially fragile neighbors are experiencing more and more scams in the form of robocalls and other electronic messages to cell phones,” Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-University Place) said. “These schemes aim to trick many of our neighbors, friends and loved ones. Our uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents are often anticipating calls to schedule needed care like medical appointments. But this also presents a prime opportunity for bad actors to prey on our senior citizens. Last year alone, these scam calls cost Americans billions. Addressing the gap in protections to root out these scams is the least we can do to protect our fellow Washingtonians.”

“Washingtonians have had it with the relentless barrage of unsolicited robocalls on our home and cell phones,” said AARP state director Marguerite Ro. “Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their true location, making it appear that they’re calling from a legitimate or local number to raise the odds that you’ll pick up. A 2019 AARP survey on robocalls showed that 60% of Washington adults are more likely to answer if caller ID shows a number with their area code. Whether it’s telemarketing spam from companies you haven’t authorized to contact you, or attempts at outright theft, more must be done to protect Washington consumers from this massive increase in unwanted robocalls.”

The bill could potentially empower individuals harmed by illegal robocalls to also pursue their own legal action, according to the AG’s office. Potential remedies under the bill include actual damages, injunctions and fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

Ferguson’s office said two other states, Florida and Oklahoma, recently adopted similar protections.

Follow this link to read additional stories from KIRO

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AG Ferguson pushes for change on state laws related to robocalls