WASHINGTON – At a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband hearing titled “Protecting Americans from Robocalls,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), questioned witnesses on how criminals are using deceptive tactics through robocalls to defraud Americans across the United States.
“With advancements in technology, we are seeing a rampant rise in criminals using deceptive robocall and disruptive texting tactics,” said Klobuchar. “We need to develop rules of the road to ensure that these fraudulent and unwanted calls no longer take advantage of people across the country.”
The witness at today's hearing included:
- Margot Saunders, Senior Attorney, National Consumer Law Center
- Megan Brown, Partner, Wiley Rein, U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative
- Josh Bercu, Executive Director, Industry Traceback Group and Vice President Policy and Advocacy, USTelecom
- Mike Rudolph, Chief Technology Officer, YouMail
A transcript of Klobuchar’s questions are available below. Video is available for online viewing HERE.
Senator Klobuchar: Lots of questions here I'll go fast. First of all, we know that after the TRACED Act passed in 2019, after new FTC rules were in place, the number of scam robocalls declined by almost half. Now we're having all kinds of new issues, and Mr. Bercu, who you noticed in your, noted in your testimony that we, that there is collaboration between industry and the FCC. How can we make sure that tracing illegal calls to their origin results in actual enforcement action?
Josh Bercu: So I think what we've seen that the FCC is approach with the cease and desist, I think it's been highly effective. They targeted certain campaigns; they dropped off the face of the earth almost. So I think I think we're making great progress. I think the more we do, some of the rules the FCC did about know your provider, I think it's a process, and over time, that is going to keep going in the right direction. So I think we've done a lot of great work.
Klobuchar: Okay, good. Ms. Saunders, why do you think, particularly these telemarketing calls, that these volumes are so high? I was, I mean, I was just looking [and] we've got so many people to under 221 million numbers registered on the Do Not Call list. And still, we're seeing a number of people call about violations. What solution should we prioritize here?
Margot Saunders: First, let me say that I believe that the number of scam calls that have appeared to be reduced because there's been a reorganization or re-categorization of many of those calls. Many of the calls that had previously been identified as scams have now been identified as telemarketing calls. It is Mr. Bercu, who said most of the telemarketing calls originate in the United States. We think that what needs to be done is the FCC should adopt a quick-acting, temporary restraining order-type of methodology. And once a voice service provider is found to have repeatedly after notice, processed, scam, or telemarketing calls, they should be suspended immediately from the robocall mitigation database. That will cost them money. And even if they, after they…
Klobuchar: That will be an incentive to be more careful.
Margot Saunders: That's correct.
Klobuchar: Okay. All right. Like it. AI voice cloning. Senator Vance mentioned this. We actually had, I had someone I know that got one of these calls. His son, serving in the Marines, deployed. So, they knew he was deployed but didn't know where. They get a call because they scraped his voice off the internet, asking for money to be delivered to somewhere in Texas. I've had two other military families tell me this story in Minnesota. I don't….this is unbelievable to me. So what are service providers, Mr. Bercu? What are they doing to get ahead of these robocalls using voice calling? These are obviously targeted ones with the person's voice, but all kinds of things could happen. And what can we do, Mr. Rudolph, to mitigate this?
Bercu: Thank you….the voice service providers take protecting their customers very seriously. They are always looking at the greatest technology … they've implemented blocking and labeling they have analytics on running on their network. So I think they will continue to try to find out how they can identify those scams and how they can take action accordingly. One of the things with our traceback effort, whether it's a robocall or one of those calls, we can trace those back, we can find out whose making them, we can find out who put it on the network. So I think traceback will be a really important part of stopping those going forward as well.
Mike Rudolph: Your specific use case is a targeted attack, and based on the investigations that we've done so far, and did similar attacks, those are threat actors who have gotten a personal phone and a personal phone number, just like anybody going into a store to get a device. So those are extremely hard for a communication provider to deal with. It looks just like a customer making those phone calls.
Klobuchar: Right, I understand. Yeah, I'm not, actually, I'm just using an example; then it could get worse, right?
Klobuchar: Or turn into the voice of a general that they know, or a famous commander or something, anything, and it would go to all the military families. Or it would go to people thinking in some political person turns into a robocall. So I do think this adds to the danger. Last thing, robo texts. There were over 12 billion spam texts to Americans just last month, I think I got half of them. And these texts often include links that install … malware, and spyware on a consumer's device. In March, the FCC adopted rules. Ms. Saunders, what other measures should they consider to go at these illegal robo texts?
Saunders: We have recommended to the commission that it adopt special security rules for robo texts that include URLs just because of this significant damage. Congress could also pass regulations or statutes that provide more protection for consumers once they've had their money stolen from their bank accounts. There are, that would be a big help as well.
Klobuchar: All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.