How many times a day do you go to answer your phone and it’s the “IRS” threatening to sue you, or “Windows” calling because you have a virus on your computer? To be frank, robocalls are a gigantic pain in the ass. How many times a day do you jump thinking it’s an important call, only to learn that it’s another automated call trying to get you to divulge your personal information?

News flash—the IRS legally cannot sue you and “Windows” is not an actual company—that would be Microsoft, and last we checked, they don’t call anyone to inform them they have a virus—that’s the purpose of your virus scanner.

Robocalls are a growing epidemic and a new study shows Pennsylvania ranks 6th among states with 239,133 robocall complaints filed in 2018. A ‘robocall’ is normally defined as a computerized call sent out by a legitimate business through an autodialer or some other device. If you’ve ever gotten a call where no one answers for a few seconds then a recorded voice comes on, that’s a robocall, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed changes to the Telemarketer Registration Act (TRA) that also allows business phone customers to sign up for the ‘do-not-call’ list. The law requires that robocalls start with a clear way for recipients to opt out of them and that telemarketing voicemails must include a voicemail to prevent future calls. The law will go into effect in 60 days, or two months.

Pennsylvania’s Do-Not-Call Law

The Do-Not-Call list was created as a result of an amendment made to the TRA in 2002, allowing telephone customers to register their name, address, and telephone numbers on a list of people telemarketers are banned from calling.

The law was amended again in 2003 to allow cell phone numbers to be registered as well. The federal government passed a similar law that same year establishing the national Do Not Call list.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a law that allows consumers take callers to court if they’re called while on the Do Not Call Registry, entitling consumers to sue for as much as $1,500 per violation.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are 10.4 million phone numbers registered on the federal Do-Not-Call list, while 3.74 million are registered on the state Do Not Call list, according to Karissa Hand, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office oversees the state list. The attorney general’s office received 618 complaints about telemarketers last year, she said.

Last month, two telemarketing firms agreed to pay a combined total of $110,000 for violating the state’s Do-Not-Call list rules, Hand said.

Yodel Technologies, based in Florida, agreed to pay $70,000 after it called consumers on the Do-Not-Call list and placed calls with pre-recorded messages, according to the Pennsylvania AG’s office. As part of the agreement, 40 consumers would be receiving a whopping $100 each—because this makes a difference somehow.

In addition to Yodel, Life Energy, a Texas company, agreed to pay $40,000 after it placed illegal calls with pre-recorded messages, where 24 consumers were also handsomely rewarded with $100 each. Pennsylvania’s Telemarketer Registration Act allows for consumers who file complaints with the Attorney General to receive up to $100 in remittance.

Federal data shows that Pennsylvanians filed 239,133 complaints about robocalls in 2018. Only five other states had more, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

  1. California (747,829);
  2. Florida (427,404);
  3. Texas (402,316); and
  4. New York (348,615).

Robocalls were: scams, 43.31%; alerts and reminders, 23.49%; payment reminders, 19.89%; and telemarketing 13.31%. Adjusted for complaints per 100,000 residents, Pennsylvania still ranked high, coming in 14th.

A new analysis by SocialCatfish.com, a website that helps users verify the identities of people they are interacting with online, notes that the most common robocall scams involve calls purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service, health insurance companies or foreign consulates.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network warned in June that robocallers are increasingly turning to spoofing, technology that allows them to make it appear that a phone call is originating locally.

The Changes to the Law

Part of the changes that Governor Wolf signed into law ends the previous requirement that telephone customers who want to remain on the state’s do-not-call registry have to renew their listing every five years.

Other changes to the law include:

  • Banning telemarketing calls on legal holidays.

  • Requiring auto-dialers, the source of robocalls, to give recipients an “opt-out” option at the beginning of the call.

  • Allow businesses to register on the do-not-call list the same as residents.

But Will this Solve the Robocalling Problem?

Of course not. Don’t be so naïve. The best recourse for residents in Pennsylvania or any other state is using your common sense. Don’t give out personally identifiable information or sensitive information over the phone. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Fraudsters now have the ability to create a number that looks like yours, maybe changing the last four numbers, using voice technology that mimics people you know.

Welcome to 2019, where your phone is now a weapon of deception. Be smart and be diligent. There are no miracles in today’s digital age. Only scams.