Gillibrand renews push to prevent robocall scams

WASHINGTON — Scam callers have amped up their tactics with new technologies like generative artificial intelligence and voice-cloning tools, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand has reintroduced a bill that she said will help crack down on the criminal activity.

In a virtual press conference on Thursday, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced the reintroduction of the “Deter Obnoxious, Nefarious and Outrageous Telephone Calls” Act, or the DO NOT Call Act.

The bill would establish more criminal penalties for the use of robocalling, which uses an internet-based phone service and a computerized autodialer to call what could be hundreds of thousands of phone numbers per hour. People convicted of illegal robocalling would be subject to at most one year of prison time, and those convicted of aggravated robocalling crimes could face three years. Making more than 100,000 calls in 24 hours, a million in 30 days or 10 million in a year, for the purposes of committing another crime would qualify as an aggravated charge.

Gillibrand said ever-improving technology has only made these scam calls more insidious.

“Public reporting indicates more families are being targeted by voice clones in ‘family emergency’ scams,” she explained.

In this relatively new method of phone scamming, criminals will use a mix of stolen and publicly available data to track down webs of family phone numbers, call one person in the family tree and use their responses to build an artificial voice clone with computer software. The scammer will then call another person in the family, using the cloned voice, claiming an urgent need for a large amount of money.

Alongside this, the traditional scams that many will likely recognize continue. Scammers will call people pretending to be the IRS collecting back-taxes, a local police benevolence organization taking donations, or a computer repair company warning a caller about a virus or technical issue with their home computer. Often, scammers will request the target render them payment in gift cards, wire transfers or digital currency transactions, which can be difficult or impossible to trace or reverse.

The senator said she is requesting the Federal Trade Commission, responsible for regulating sales and cracking down on economic crimes, step in and share its latest progress on tracking artificial-intelligence driven scams.

Gillibrand said part of her bill also targets so-called “spoofing,” when a caller uses a service to fake the caller identification for the recipient, making it a fineable offense. This can be used by out-of-country scammers to make their calls appear to originate from a reputable business, and can be used in family emergency scams to specifically fake a family members phone number.

Gillibrand said a number of Democratic officials have co-signed onto her bill, but it has not yet gotten any Republican co-sponsors and there is not a House version of the bill active.

“We just had a hearing in the Aging committee on this, though,” she said. “I think a lot of the senators who attended were very alarmed, so I suspect I will get more co-sponsors.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today