Meng Bill to Quash Widespread Telephone Scam Targeting and Defrauding Millions of Americans - Including New Yorkers - Passed by House
Sep 11, 2014
Bipartisan legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) to quash a widespread telephone scheme that has targeted and defrauded millions of Americans – including New Yorkers – passed the full House of Representatives last night. The measure now heads to the Senate.
The Anti-Spoofing Act (H.R. 3670) aims to combat “spoofing,” a practice in which bogus names and phone numbers are displayed on recipients’ caller IDs in order to trick them into answering the phone or replying to text messages. The practice is widely used by con artists and unscrupulous telemarketers who use technology to disguise their numbers and identities to make their calls appear legitimate. Devious telemarketers employ the practice to dishonestly sell their merchandise, and fraudsters use it to obtain personal or financial information by misrepresenting themselves as, among other things, government agencies, hospitals, banks, pharmacies and credit card companies.
“Attention scammers and deceitful telemarketers: We are one step closer to stopping you from using caller ID spoofing to rip-off unwitting, vulnerable consumers such as the elderly, immigrants and veterans,” said Meng. “I thank my colleagues in the House for joining me in trying to end this shameful and malicious practice, and I now call on the Senate to quickly follow suit.”
Meng’s legislation is supported by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and the New York Mayor’s office of Immigrant Affairs, as well as AARP (due to spoofing’s impact on seniors), consumer advocacy organizations and law enforcement agencies.
The Congresswoman introduced the bill after receiving complaints about spoofing from local seniors and the “Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET),” a civic organization in her district in Queens, New York. However, she quickly learned that the problem has affected Americans in all corners of the country.
"Spoofing is a huge problem that affects millions of people throughout the country,” said Roe Daraio, President of COMET. “I am pleased to hear that Congresswoman Meng's bill, to help combat this practice, has passed the House. Hopefully, this bill will pass the Senate, be enacted into law and ultimately help curtail this practice which is oftentimes used by criminals."
This past tax season, con artists used caller ID spoofing to dupe tens of thousands of Americans – including New Yorkers – into thinking that they were being contacted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The phone scammers posed as IRS officials demanding immediate payment for unpaid taxes, and threatened to arrest the victims if they did not immediately pay with a debit card or wire transfer. Often times, the fraudsters disguised their numbers to make it appear that the calls were actually originating from IRS. The scheme forced the IRS to warn the public, and similar scam alerts were issued by other affected government agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In addition, scammers have impersonated law enforcement by using the phone numbers of police departments – including the NYPD – to swindle consumers.
In 2009 Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law the Truth in Caller ID Act, which prohibits caller ID spoofing when it is used to defraud or harm Americans. But spoofing technology has evolved since the law was enacted, and criminals have found ways to circumvent it.
Meng’s legislation seeks to tighten and strengthen the Truth in Caller ID Act by:
Broadening the law to prohibit spoofing by foreigners. Presently, many U.S.-based companies spoof calls to U.S. residents but originate them from outside the United States.
Broadening the law to include new internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services that enable callers to make outgoing-only calls from computers and tablets to mobile and landline phones, a technology that was undeveloped in 2009 when the Truth In Caller ID Act was adopted and a practice that has contributed significantly to the spoofing problem.
Broadening the law to include text messaging, a technology that has become much more prevalent since 2009 and a spoofing method that fraudsters use with increasing regularity.
Meng introduced the Anti-Spoofing Act this past December with Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), and she testified about the measure in July before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
“Fraudsters adapt to new technology which means the law needs to as well,” said Rep. Lance. “By outlawing Caller ID spoofing and texting, we are giving consumers another layer of protection from scammers, spammers and unscrupulous telemarketers. It’s a simple fix but a new and important safeguard, especially for senior citizens.”
“Scammers are using technology to work around an outdated law,” said Rep. Barton. “The practice of spoofing needs to be stopped! This bill will broaden protections for consumers by holding spoofing companies outside the US accountable, stopping abusers from using text messages, and including IP-enabled voice services. I am happy to have struck this balance with those we worked with on this legislation, and I am glad to have the support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Again, I want to thank my colleagues Representatives Meng and Lance for the time they gave to get this bill to where it is today.”