Senators pile on the robocall criticism

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is slated to crack down on robocalls next week, and now senators are getting into the mix.

During a Wednesday hearing on robocalls, Senate Aging Committee Chairwoman Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (R-Maine) argued current regulations have been "rendered ineffective by advances in technology." 

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"If we are going to win the fight against scammers targeting our seniors, we need to get ahead of the technology that they use to generate robocalls and to spoof caller IDs," Collins added. 

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillLobbying world Dem candidate has Hawley served subpoena at CPAC Annual scorecard ranks GOP environmental efforts far below Dems in 2018 MORE (D-Mo.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow the FCC to impose greater fines against some robocallers and would give the agency more authority to go after call spoofing — a technique that can be used by robocallers to disguise their phone number. 

"We have to stay on top of this issue because spammers, spoofers and robocallers will continue to use whatever tools are available to them to defraud American consumers and American seniors," McCaskill said Wednesday. 

The FCC is slated to vote next week to give the go-ahead for telephone companies to offer call-blocking technology to their customers, among other things. 

The technology, which will not be required, is meant to stop robocalls before they ever reach a customer’s phone. 

McCaskill's bill would fit neatly with the FCC's plan. Many phone providers say problems remain with the early blocking technology, including the ease with which companies can spoof their numbers to avoid detection. 

With some of the technology, numerous complaints about a certain number must be made before future calls are blocked. But robocallers could avoid that by continuously disguising their number. 

McCaskill's legislation would give the FCC more authority over companies that employ the spoofing technology for harmful or fraudulent purposes. 

"Fraudsters can even spoof their numbers to make victims believe they are calling from the IRS or the police department," Collins said at one point, after having one of her aides call her during the hearing using a spoofed number associated with the IRS, then another from the Justice Department. 

The FCC already has authority to go after U.S. companies that disguise their numbers for nefarious reasons. The legislation would also give the agency the authority to target call spoofing that originates in other countries.

It would also give the agency power over companies that sell the spoofing technology to others. It would require companies selling spoofing technology to verify that its customers are not using it for illegal purposes and would give the FCC subpoena power over those companies' caller ID information.

The legislation would also extend the spoofing prohibitions to text messages and Internet phone service. 

The bill would also allow the FCC to impose harsher monetary fines on some robocallers. 

Traditional telephone companies and other common carriers can be slapped with fines as high as $160,000, and licensed broadcasters can face $35,000 fines per robocall. The current maximum fine for others is $16,000. The bill would increase that amount to $25,000.