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AGs demand protection from debt collection cellphone robocalls

by Terry Sebastian, Crystal Staley

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear today joined forces in urging Congress to reverse the new law allowing debt collection robocalls to cellphones. Previously, the federal government banned all robocalls to cellphones because they interrupt consumers' privacy and may cost consumers a charge.

Zoeller and Beshear believe this provision is a significant setback in the fight to defend their citizens' telephone privacy rights, and particularly burdens young Americans struggling with student debt.

Debt collection robocalls are aggressive, relentless and often inaccurate, the two attorneys general said today in Louisville.

Both Indiana and Kentucky ban most robocalls, and this federal loophole would undermine tough state laws protecting citizens' telephone privacy rights.

"College students and recent graduates are already buried in mountains of debt," Zoeller said. "Blasting them with robocalls, running up their cellphone bills and putting them at risk for fraud only adds insult to injury."

Because robocalls have been banned, individuals generally associate these calls with scammers. The proliferation of scammers who impersonate government agencies, for example the IRS impersonation scam, adds an additional layer of confusion for people and likely creates more opportunity for fraud.

The YouMail National Robocall Index (YNRI) recently estimated that 2.3 billion robocalls were made nationwide in the month of January alone.

"Protecting Kentuckians from unwanted robocalls is an ongoing priority of my office, and Congress must also act to put consumers first," Beshear said. "Not passing this act will be a step backward for our office to prosecute those who violate state and federal consumer laws."

Of the nearly 700 debt collection complaints the Indiana Attorney General's Office received last year, about 90 percent were because the caller was harassing the wrong person.

"We get several calls on any given day for a person that does not live here," said one Indiana consumer who filed a complaint with the AG's Office. "I refuse to let them bully me... ask them every time to stop calling us. I need help in getting this stopped. It is out of control."

In February, Zoeller and Beshear joined 23 other attorneys general in asking Congress to pass the ''Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls Act of 2015'' or the ''HANGUP" Act, which would reverse the amendment to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) allowing debt collection robocalls to cell phones.

Prior to the amendment, the TCPA prohibited all robocalls to cellphones. As amended, the TCPA now permits citizens to receive unwanted and previously illegal robocalls to their cellphones if the calls are made pursuant to the collection of debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.

The Indiana Attorney General's Office received nearly 14,000 complaints about unwanted calls in 2015, a majority of which were about robocalls. The largest number of consumer complaints the Kentucky Attorney General's Office receives is about unwanted telemarketing calls, with robocalls and debt collection at the top of the list.

A Kentucky consumer who received student loan collection calls said, "The company made repeated calls to my mobile phone despite my request that they stop harassing me and making calls that cost me money for every minute that we talked." The consumer pleaded, "Stop the calls to my cellphone."

Zoeller and Beshear reminded residents to sign up for the Do Not Call list in Kentucky and Indiana. The Indiana Attorney General's Office also suggests people utilize this call-blocking reference sheet for additional call-blocking applications.

Indiana residents who receive an unwanted call or are targeted by a phone scam can file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office by visiting www.IndianaConsumer.com or calling 888.834.9969. Kentucky residents can file complaints with the Kentucky Attorney General's Office at ag.ky.gov or call 888.432.9257.

Zoeller and Beshear also ask Indiana and Kentucky consumers to reach out to their Congressional leaders and urge passage of the HANGUP Act.

A copy of Zoeller's original statement in support of the HANGUP Act can be found at in.gov, and a copy of Beshear's can be found at ag.ky.gov.

The HANGUP Act remains pending before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.


This story was posted on 2016-03-04 14:29:16
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