Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement on Dec. 28 announcing his partnership with state Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, on legislation combating robocalls.
According to Ferguson’s statement, Washington’s current robocall laws are “weak and out-of-date.” Leavitt’s proposed Robocall Scam Protection Act, House Bill 1051, would make it a violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act to robocall someone on the Do Not Call Registry, deliberately falsify the caller ID display to disguise the caller’s identity or knowingly facilitating illegal robocalls through a voice service provider.
The legislation is part of Ferguson’s anti-robocalling initiative he launched in March to combat fraudulent, harassing and illegal robocalls.
Ferguson said robocallers who ignore the federal Do Not Call Registry are often scammers who try to steal a person’s money or identity. According to YouMail, Washington residents received nearly 260 million scam robocalls in 2021, nearly half of the 616 million total robocalls in the state. According to estimates based on TrueCaller survey data, more than 835,000 Washingtonians lost money to scam robocalls in 2021.
“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.”
According to Leavitt, elderly adults, youths and the most financially fragile in Washington state have experienced increasing numbers of scams from robocalls and electronic messages.
“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,” Leavitt said. “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.”
Marguerite Ro, the AARP director for Washington state, was also included in the statement, calling for action on robocalls.
“Washingtonians have had it with the relentless barrage of unsolicited robocalls on our home and cell phones,” Ro said. “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.”
Currently, no Washington state law explicitly prohibits companies from contacting individuals on the federal Do Not Call Registry against their will. The Robocall Scam Protection Act will make the calls a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
The bill will also prohibit robocallers from “spoofing” their calls, a technique in which scammers use false or deceptive caller identifications. There is currently no specific state law prohibiting the use of spoofing for deceptive calls.
The new law will allow for civil litigation against telecommunications providers of all sizes that knowingly allow illegal robocalls through their networks.
The bill preserves business’ ability to use automatic dialers to contact their existing customers and customers who consented to receive their messages.
According to Ferguson’s statement, the best advice for Washingtonians who receive a robocall without their permission is to hang up. If a person believes a call is a scam, they are encouraged to report it to the Attorney General’s Office at atg.wa.gov/file-complaint or call toll-free 1-800-551-4636. Washington residents can also report robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at complaints.donotcall.gov/com plaint/complaintcheck.aspx.
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