ALBANY- New federal legislation would impose harsher fines and even jail time for repeat offenders of pre-recorded telemarketing calls that violate the federal "Do Not Call" rules after complaints have dramatically increased, Sen. Charles Schumer announced Wednesday.
Schumer said he will introduce the Quell Unnecessary, Intentional, and Encroaching Telephone Calls Act of 2014, or QUIET Act of 2014, to crack down on solicitors. The law would impose a fine of up to $20,000 for breaking federal regulations, and violations would become a felony for repeat offenders who could face up to 10 years in jail.
"When I heard this I knew if the robo-callers weren't going to stop, I had to become the Robo Cop," Schumer said on a conference call with reporters.
Currently, the penalty for breaking the various "Do Not Call" laws is a maximum $1,500 fine, Schumer said.
"$1,500 sounds like a lot, but its nothing for a corporation. In fact, for a corporation the penalties are so low, it's an invitation to break the law because they can make millions of these calls with one push of a button," Schumer said.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 developed restrictions on telemarketing including establishing the national "Do Not Call" list for consumer who wished not to be called by telemarketers and prohibiting solicitors from calling before 8am and after 9pm. The restrictions do not apply to charitable donations or emergency alerts. The "Truth in Caller ID" Act in 2010 made displaying a fake caller ID number illegal if used for the purposes of defrauding consumers.
Telemarketers now use "robocalls" to solicit consumers, which uses software to dial large amounts of numbers automatically.
There were 131,491 statewide complaints of robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission in 2013, nearly triple the amount in 2010, the Democratic senator said.
His office used area codes to determine an estimate of complaints by region and found that upstate has seen a dramatic increase in "robo" calls between the 2010 and 2013 federal fiscal years, which ended Sept. 30.
In 2013, western New York, the 716 area code, had roughly 21,00 robocall complaints, up from 7,500 in 2010. The Rochester-Finger Lakes region, the 585 area code, had about 22,000 complaints, up from 6,622 in 2010.
The Hudson Valley, which includes the 914 and 845 area codes, had the highest number of complaints outside New York City and Long Island. The area had 52,544 robocall complaints, up from 12,570 in 2010.
In the Southern Tier, the 607 area code, the number of complaints nearly tripled since 2010: to 10,818.
The legislation would have the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission work with the Justice Department to report and prosecute solicitors who would violate the QUIET Act. It's unclear whether the legislation would have the full support of Congress.
"The QUIET Act would stiffen both financial and legal penalties when federal law is violated and should provide a much greater disincentive to skirt do-not-call laws – to the tune of $20,000 and jail time," Schumer said. "As upstate New Yorkers struggle more and more with this invasion of privacy, I hope this legislation will help us hang-up on illegal robocalls."