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Pesky robocalls targeted by 40 state attorneys general, including Texas AG Paxton

December 25, 2018

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined a bipartisan group of 40 state attorneys general to stop and reduce robocalls. But robocalls can be nearly impossible to stop, and their prevalence continues to increase across the state.

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, telemarketers are prohibited from calling cellphones using automatic telephone dialing systems or prerecorded messages without express written consent.

In 2017, Americans received 30.5 billion of these robocalls, according to YouMail, an app that blocks robocalls. That year, nearly 236 million robocalls were made to San Antonio area codes, 225.6 million were made to Austin area codes, over 1 billion were made to Houston area codes and nearly 1.2 billion were made to Dallas area codes, according to the data.

This year, those four cities saw a combined 30 percent increase in robocalls as of the end of November, with consumers in San Antonio receiving an average of 21 a month; in Houston the average is 12. Most of those calls are illegal, coming from telemarketers or scammers, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.

Promises of low interest rates on loans, student loan forgiveness and health insurance enrollment are the three most common scams, Quilici said.

Scam calls are the most challenging to regulate, he said. The technology evolves much faster than the law, and many of the calls come from overseas and are impossible to trace.

“The problem is it’s so easy to make them. There’s actually websites you can go to where you can put in a list of phone numbers, you can upload an audio file, you can put in a phone number so when people press one it goes to that phone number,” Quilici said. “You can do all this in 10 minutes. Put a couple hundred dollars on a prepaid debit card and I can annoy all of Houston. When it’s that easy to do, people do it.”

The state attorneys general are collaborating with major telecommunication companies to find solutions to the robocalling problem, according to a news release.

In November, the Federal Communication Commission changed its rules to allow phone companies to proactively block fraudulent calls.

Quilici said giving the phone companies more power to trace robocalls could be an important step in lessening the robocalling problem. But he said it would be impossible to stop robocalling entirely.

“Email spam hasn’t gone away and people have been working that on that for 20 years,” Quilici said. “It’s just quietly gone to a different folder, and every once in awhile, you get something that’s annoying.”

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