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New York State Lawmakers Aim To Curb Robocalls

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Hans Pennink
/
AP
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Rockville Centre, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, D-New York, and State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-New York, hold a news conference to advance legislation banning robocalls in Albany in March.

When state lawmakers return later this month for a post-budget session, there are a number of issues that they hope to tackle, including trying to curb the number of robocalls New Yorkers receive on their phones.

The call are annoying, and becoming more frequent.

According to the company YouMail, which makes call blocking software, New York reported the third highest volume of robocalls in the nation for the month of March.

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, provided audio recordings of some of the robocalls that she says have plagued New Yorkers recently.

“My name is Emily, and I’m calling because you stayed at one of your resorts in the past,” a woman’s voice intones. “And you qualify for a 75 percent savings on an amazing vacation getaway.”

Niou says in her district, which includes Chinatown in lower Manhattan, the scam messages are even customized in Chinese.

“And saying that we had a package or something that needed to be called back,” said Niou, who said some of the calls requested that money be paid, and some elderly constituents fell prey to the scam.

Chuck Bell with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, says many fall prey to the scams.

“An estimated 40 percent of robocalls are scam calls, amounting to some $350 million in financial losses each year to consumers,” said Bell.

He says it’s also even affecting emergency response systems, with 911 dispatchers reporting getting the calls.

Niou is sponsoring legislation in the Assembly that would impose new fines on telemarketing companies, of up to $2,000 per individual call, and give the state attorney general new powers to investigate suspected robocalls.  

But the companies are often based off shore and not within the boundaries of the U.S., so they are difficult to regulate.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Brad Hoylman, says the measure also tries to prevent the calls from actually reaching people’s phones. It will require phone companies to make free software that blocks the calls available to customers.

“A number of providers offer call-blocking technology, but they charge for it,” said Hoylman.

Campaign robocalls would still be permitted under the measure, Hoylman says. But he says the bill leaves it up to the state’s Public Service Commission to make the final determination.

Hoylman says the federal Do Not Call Registry is no longer working adequately to prevent calls, and he hopes a new state law might cause New Yorkers to want to answer their phones again.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.