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Lawmakers consider toughest robocall regulations in the nation

Former Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey testifies on HF3099, sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson, right, that would prohibit the display of a fraudulent or inaccurate name or telephone number on a person’s caller ID. Photo by Paul Battaglia

It’s probably happened to everyone. You’re having a quiet evening at home and the phone rings. Caller ID indicates a local number, but in actuality, the call could be coming from across the globe.

Often, the caller pretends to be a bank, the IRS or utility company hoping to scam money or personal information.

“Minnesotans are experiencing an unprecedented deluge of obnoxious and fraudulent robocalls,” Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) told the House Commerce Committee Tuesday. He said Minnesotans received 500 million robocalls last year — over 125 calls per adult.

He has an idea to give Minnesota the toughest anti-robocall law in the nation.

HF3099 would ban spoofing technology that makes it look like a local number on caller ID.

It would also require telecommunications companies to use the latest technology to block such calls, and give the state attorney general and consumers tools to avoid them.

After an initial violation, offenders could face a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. Penalties for theft by swindle or identity theft accomplished through calls prohibited by the bill could include five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

“I think Minnesotans are ready for action now,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said a judge told him about a call he got from someone pretending to be from the IRS saying if he didn’t pay up an arrest warrant would be issued. The judge signs arrest warrants, but still felt intimidated by the caller, Stephenson said.

Approved by the committee, HF3099 was sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division. Its companion, SF3335, awaits action by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. It is sponsored by Sen. Matt Little (DFL-Lakeville).

Former state attorney general Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III said the bill would provide seniors with much stronger protections against illegal robocalls. In one AARP survey, people reported getting seven robocalls per week.

“I wish it were only seven per week,” Humphrey said of his own phone. He cancelled his land line several months ago because he was getting so many robocalls.

Jay Haapala, associate state director of community engagement for AARP, said one of the group’s trained volunteers from Mendota Heights got scammed out of nearly $40,000.

“Her bank gave her $800 back and the rest was gone,” he said.

Assistant Attorney General Katherine Kelly said there is a pandemic of robocalls, and every week her office gets a call from someone who lost thousands of dollars, often originating in a spoof call.

However, some questioned the need for a state law when Congress passed the TRACED Act in 2019, which allows the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on robocalls.

Stephenson said the federal law has an 18-month rollout period, and his bill goes farther.

Anna Boroff, executive director of the Minnesota Cable Communications Association, said the federal law takes the right approach, which the bill would interfere with and create vague and conflicting requirements.

Representing the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, Cam Winton said the bill contains “fuzzy new standards” that would make it more difficult for telecom providers to stop the calls.

“The federal government, in a bipartisan way, is on the case here,” he said.

Winton also questioned whether telecom providers could be jailed for displaying incorrect sources of calls.

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