HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Despite federal efforts, robocalls are still the top complaint to the FCC. Houston gets the second highest amount of calls in the United States. What happened to the Do Not Call list?
Scammers use ploys like insurance plans and free vacations to steal identities.
Legislators tried to tackle the problem in 2003 with the Do Not Call list, but it hasn't had the desired effect, due to the fact that scammers weren't scared by civil fines.
"Paying the fine is basically the cost of doing business, they built it into their business model," says Senator John Thune, a Republican representing South Dakota. "The only way we're going to get their attention is to make these penalties really hurt."
Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED) is getting a second look in the Senate, and hopes to up the penalties on scammers to criminal punishment for the first time.
There were 48 billion robocalls to mobile phones in 2018, a 60% increase from the year before. This year, it could be worse. In 2019, half of the time your phone rings, it is likely to be a scammer.
The new initiative targets people like Adrian Abramovich, who had to answer to a Senate hearing committee about his software that made it possible to send 97 million robocalls in just the span of a few months. He reluctantly admitted that users cannot opt out of these calls, landing him the largest FCC fine to date: $120 million. He did not serve any jail time, even though his calls overwhelmed an emergency medical paging service.
"I think if there were the threat of criminal prosecution, it would probably change his behavior," says Thune.
The TRACED Act already has bipartisan support, and backing from Attorneys General in all 50 states. Sen. Thune hopes it comes up for a vote within the next few weeks.