Senators urge FCC, DOJ to combat coronavirus robocalls

Senators urge FCC, DOJ to combat coronavirus robocalls
© Greg Nash

Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySchumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Democrats see fundraising spike following Ginsburg death Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy MORE (D-Mass.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP sees early Supreme Court vote as political booster shot Romney backs pre-election Supreme Court vote, paving way for McConnell, Trump Senate GOP faces pivotal moment on pick for Supreme Court MORE (R-S.D.) sent letters to key federal agencies Monday urging them to do more to combat coronavirus-related robocalls.

The lawmakers referenced a Washington Post report detailing how scammers have taken advantage of the epidemic to pitch fake COVID-19 testing kits or sell nonexistent medical equipment.

“We are particularly concerned by the threat these calls pose to elderly Americans. They are especially vulnerable to robocall scams, and they are among those at the greatest risk from coronavirus,” Markey and Thune wrote in letters to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrProsecutor says no charges in Michigan toilet voting display Judge rules Snowden to give up millions from book, speeches The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE

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“Robocalls that spread misinformation about cures, peddle ineffective equipment, and offer bogus medical advice have the potential to inflict significant harm on individuals and communities across the country.”

Coronavirus scams are an illustrative example of how robocallers can use crises to target vulnerable populations.

Congress took action on the threat late last year, passing the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, named after Thune and the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

The bill, signed by President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE on New Years Eve, requires phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers any extra money.

It also expands the authority of the FCC and Department of Justice to find and fine scammers.

However, many of those efforts are still being implemented.

According to YouMail, which offers a robocall blocking service, there were well over 4 million automated calls to American smartphones in February.