Ohioans got 2.2 billion robocalls just in 2019 – and the state attorney general says that number has been going up every year. He’s launching a new effort to crack down on the system that has flooded cell phones and work and landlines with robocalls.
AG Dave Yost said robocalls like this made without customers’ consent are illegal – for instance, offering to lower student loan debt or demanding money for unpaid taxes.
“Make no mistake about it – these things are not currently legal. They’re just hard to get to. And we’re going to go after them," Yost said.
As an example, he talked about an 81-year-old woman who got a call from someone who knew her name, claimed to be from the Social Security Administration and said she needed to wire money immediately because there was an account issue that could interfere with her benefits.
“So she falls for it, she wires the money," Yost said. "Minutes later, she gets a call from a man. ‘Hi, this is Jake from the FBI, and the person that just called you is a scam artist. But if you can wire me some money, I’ll go get them and bring them to justice.’”
In August, 12 phone service providers agreed to adopt anti robocall practices as part of an initiative with Yost and other attorneys general. But the calls are still coming.
Yost said the problem isn’t just the robocallers, but also the voice-over-internet protocol or VOIP providers which he blames for the surge in robocalls. So Yost is asking people who answer robocalls to immediately text ROBO to 888111, triggering a message from his office asking for more information.
He said that will be turned over to a robocall enforcement unit of investigators and attorneys who will develop trends and identify targets – and record sting calls made to those robocallers.
“We can crank up the pain to the point where they don’t want to deal with our state. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do," Yost said.
And Yost is working with lawmakers on getting more authority to take those targets to court.
Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysville) said it’s both a federal and state concern, and that consolidating this at the state level prevents prosecutors from all over Ohio from going after the same case. And he said it’s not meant to hit legitimate telemarketers.
“This is not an encumbrance on the First Amendment. You still have the right to call whomever you wish," Burke said. "The original issue remains the same – people who harass people, people who say they’re somebody they’re not, and people who scam and steal from people who are vulnerable.”
Yost said because there are so many players in these scams making calls and collecting data, no-call lists and the option of “press 2 to be removed from our list” don’t work. He said the way to get off robocallers’ radar for good is to never answer calls from unknown numbers, and just let callers leave a message.