OLEAN — Are you sick of annoying robocalls at all hours of the day? You are not alone.
The Do Not Call list of 10 years ago is in need of updating to protect consumers, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told a group of about 50 people at the John J. Ash Center.
Schumer, who stopped in Olean while on a tour of Southern Tier counties Wednesday, said Americans received more than 4.9 billion robocalls in March. In 2018, 47.7 billion robocalls were made to U.S. residents.
In April, New Yorkers received 290 million robocalls, averaging 112 calls per second and 11 calls per New Yorker, Schumer said.
Despite the federal Do Not Call list, almost 35 million robocalls were targeted to phones in Cattaraugus County and the 716 area code in June alone, the senator said.
Add that to 38.4 million robocalls in May, 38.1 million in April, 38.8 million in March, 36.6 million in February and 39.1 million in January and the numbers are staggering, Schumer said.
The Senate last month passed the TRACED Act 97-1, which would give federal agencies “the ability to trace, prosecute and enforce fines against robocall scammers,” Schumer said. It’s now up to the House to pass the bill later this month so President Donald Trump can sign it.
The robocalls are not only annoying, Schumer said. “People get ripped off by a lot of these scammers.”
Why does it seem like robocalls are on the increase? Schumer, who helped pass the original “Do Not Call” legislation a decade ago, told those gathered at the Olean Senior Center that someone overseas can push a button and make a million calls and disguise their telephone numbers. The robocallers can make the call seem like it's coming from your next door neighbor.
The good news, Schumer said, is the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate would enable authorities to track down and punish the robocalling companies. In addition, carriers like Verizon and AT&T will be able to deny service to companies disguising their telephone numbers, Schumer said.
The Senate bill, which the House is expected to take up later this month when Congress returns from its recess, also calls for fines of up to $10,000 per phone robocall and extending the statute of limitations from one year to three.
“If approved, 95% to 98% of robocalls will stop,” the senator said. The Federal Trade Commission estimates 99% of robocalls are fraudulent.
One woman asked Schumer whether consumers would have to “opt in” to rid themselves of robocalls under the bill.
Schumer said consumers would automatically be protected under the bill without having to opt in. The companies would be tracked by credit card numbers.
“Who do we report this to?” asked another woman.
Schumer said telephone carriers are swamped with complaints right now, but that consumers could contact his office who will pass the information on to the FBI.
Olean Mayor Bill Aiello said residents who think they have been scammed by robocallers should call the local police as well.
The mayor said the robocall bill would help senior citizens who are often targeted. “They are the ones the robocallers prey upon,” he added.
“What about a timetable for passage of the bill?” another woman asked.
Schumer replied that the House is expected to take up the bill after Congress returns from its current July 4 recess.
ON ANOTHER ISSUE, a woman asked Schumer what was being done about the bad people coming to the U.S. southern border?
Schumer replied that “most are not criminals and drug dealers” as the president would have people believe. “These are residents fleeing from threats” in their home countries in Central America. “Ninety percent don’t get asylum,” he added.
The senator said one way to resolve the border situation would be to require people to apply for asylum in their home countries. U.S. immigration judges could be stationed in those countries to hear asylum requests.
“This is the best alternative,” Schumer said. Comprehensive immigration reform would be preferable, he added.
Besides the mayor, Schumer recognized Cattaraugus County Administrator Jack Searles, county legislators Susan Labuhn, John Padlo and Barbara Hastings, Department of Aging Director Cathy Mackay.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)