Protecting people from telemarketers

By Scott Tibbs, February 15, 2019

Telemarketing is more out of control than ever, especially with criminal scammers trying to steal from unsuspecting people. There are policy reforms that need to happen.

First, we need to abolish the "do not call" list and replace it with a "do-call" list. The only way someone can be legally called is if they opt in to the list, and that opt-in must be renewed annually. Calling anyone not on the list would be a $10,000 fine on the first offense. The second offense should be a $25,000 fine, with each offense after that bringing a $100,000 fine. The fines would be paid to the person who gets the unwanted call, not the government. Let's bankrupt these companies. They do not deserve to exist.

Inevitably, the telemarketers would cry "free speech." Of course, they are wrong. You have the right to say whatever you want, post it on the Internet, or stand on the street corner and talk. You do not have the right to call people and harass them against their consent. You do not have the right to steal minutes from people's cell phone plans. This is not a First Amendment issue, and I guarantee the men who ratified the Bill of Rights would agree with me.

If these criminals are out of our nation's borders and beyond the reach of our law enforcement agencies, we should pressure the host governments to turn them over to us. This would include economic sanctions and other measures, as well as incentives for the host governments to exterminate this menace. If you allow criminals to harass and victimize our citizens, you are not a friend and you will be treated accordingly.

Another reform would be mandatory tracking of the locations of phone calls. This is a tricky one, because it does raise privacy concerns and even data stored out of public view can be hacked and leaked. But if we are going to catch criminal phone scammers, then we need to find out where they are so we can take action against them. If collecting this data is expensive for telephone companies, making this an unfunded mandate would be unfair. Grants and reimbursements should be available for the expense of tracking call location.

Spoofing phone numbers is especially vile and evil, because the victim often cannot block calls from his own number. Therefore, we should criminalize phone number spoofing, and ban possession of the hardware and software used to spoof numbers. Together with the tracking requirement, we would be able to add additional penalties to criminal scammers.

Finally, state level actions are not enough. Telephone scams are interstate commerce and federal regulation is appropriate. States can have their own laws, of course, but Congress needs to act. While certain policy details might be problematic (specifically tracking the origin point of phone calls) I cannot imagine there would not be wide bipartisan agreement to go after these criminals and put them behind bars where they belong.

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