A bill aimed at curbing annoying and sometimes predatory robocalls cleared the U.S. Senate on Thursday and is on its way to the House of Representatives. 

The bill is S 151, the TRACED Act, short for Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was one of the original four sponsors of the 2018 version of the bill. One of her co-sponsors, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., sponsored this one. Including Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin. D-W.Va., it has 84 co-sponsors. It passed 97-1. 

“I hear from so many West Virginians about annoying and misleading robocalls,” Capito said in a release on the passage. “I’m proud we have delivered a solution in the TRACED Act with broad, bipartisan support. Robocalls are more than a nuisance; they’re dangerous and predatory. Increasing penalties and giving the appropriate authorities more tools to go after these bad actors is a no-brainer.” 

Capito’s role on the Senate Commerce Committee, bringing the issue to the forefront after hearing complaints from her West Virginia constituents, helped her garner bipartisan support, Senate sources said. 

The TRACED Act does five things, according to releases from Capito and Manchin:

— Broaden the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to levy civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call to those who intentionally flout telemarketing restrictions.

— Extend the window for the FCC to catch and take civil enforcement action against intentional violations to three years after a robocall is placed. Under current law the FCC has only one year to do so and the FCC told the Commerce Committee that “even a one-year longer statute of limitations for enforcement” would improve enforcement against willful violators.

— Bring together the Department of Justice, FCC, Federal Trade Commission , Department of Commerce, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other relevant federal agencies—as well as state attorneys general and other non-federal entities—to identify and report to Congress on improving deterrence and criminal prosecution at the federal and state level of robocall scams.

— Require providers of voice services to adopt call authentication technologies, enabling a telephone carrier to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones.

— Direct the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted calls or texts from callers using unauthenticated numbers. 

Manchin commented: “Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, we as Americans can all agree on one thing, Spam and robocalls are just absolutely awful. I am glad that my colleagues have come together to pass legislation to give FCC and other federal agencies the resources they need to finally reduce calls like these, which have increased year after year. 

“This bill will also put in stricter regulations and harsher penalties for telemarketers and scammers that harass people. I am proud to have cosponsored this commonsense, bipartisan bill.” 

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey also chimed in on the bill’s passage, noting in a release that he’d joined a bipartisan coalition of 54 state and territory attorneys general in March calling on the Senate to support the bill. 

More than 48 billion robocalls were made in 2018, he said, making them the number one source of consumer complaints to the FTC and FCC, and resulting in millions in consumer losses. 

The AGs jointly signed a letter that said the total number of complaints rose by over 1 million complaints in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2017, consumers reported losses in excess of $290 million through telemarketer fraud and the Consumers Union reported that telemarketing scams have been a $9.5 billion cost to the U.S. economy. 

Telemarketers, they said, increasingly rely on automated dialing software and the internet-based telecommunications technology of Voice over Internet Protocol. “The hardware and software required to make robocalls is easy to obtain, is relatively inexpensive, enables mass-dialing of thousands of calls for pennies, and allows telemarketers to fake or spoof Caller ID information. … Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software and an internet connection.” 

Morrisey commented in his release: “We applaud the United States Senate’s actions because scam calls must come to an end. Our office constantly receives reports from working people around the state about scam calls, and every week we gather more evidence that scam calls are hurting these people. … We hope today’s vote is yet another step forward in our effort to reduce these nuisance calls.” 

Morrisey said anyone concerned that they have received a suspicious call can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.