If you hate deceptive telemarketing and phone scams – a description that covers every human being who ever lived – as of Jan. 1 you can push back a little more.
A new state law imposes civil penalties of up to $5,000 for calls that pretend to be coming from a different number, such as somebody on your phone contact list or a familiar-looking number that begins with 603. This practice is known as spoofing and used by scammers and unscrupulous marketers to fool people into answering their calls.
Realistically the law is unlikely to have much effect, since the state can prosecute only calls that originate within New Hampshire, but it’s indicative of a push to use laws and technology to throttle the tidal wave of spoofed robocalls that is inundating the phone system.
“It’s not going to be an easy law to enforce, but let’s start with at least a law,” said Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, the main sponsor of the bill that strengthens an existing law, RSA 359-E. “It’s part of a larger, more national initiative to go after these sort of practices.”
The new law covers robocalls and calls “for solicitation,” which includes calls from political campaigns, but does not cover individuals making calls via spoofing apps or other methods. Some groups, such as advocates for survivors of domestic abuse, say that individual call spoofing can be an important safety tool.
Brandon Garod, assistant attorney general in the consumer protection bureau, said that his office “gets complaints about scam calls, robocalls, every day – people trying to convince them to give money, give information.” And while reports don’t always say if the call was spoofed, he said, “we assume it is, most of the time.”
“I remember three years ago … I used to get robocalls all the time that (Caller ID) would say China, or somewhere in Africa. That’s an easy decision – I don’t know anybody in Africa, so I won’t answer the phone,” Garod said. “Now they all pretend to be coming from inside New Hampshire, or Vermont or Massachusetts.”
Luneau said that spoofing is a major contributor to scams done over the phone because it gets past people’s defenses.
“Any time there is false and misleading and deceptive caller ID, it causes problems,” he said.
Garod said that even though prosecution under the new law will be rare, people should notify the Department of Justice if they get a call that pretends to be from one place but actually is from another.
“Our ability to evaluate trends and know what’s happening depends on people letting us know what’s going on in the state,” he said. “If there’s a theme going on – where all of a sudden people are receiving spoofed calls that seem to come from one of their contacts – it gives us the ability to … let people know, to warn them this is what’s happening right now, you can’t trust your Caller ID.”
On a brighter note, Garod said the New Hampshire attorney general’s office is helping to lead a national push involving all 51 attorneys general and a dozen telecommunications companies to fix the problem.
“We have an agreement about moving forward, and part of that is implementing call-blocking technology at the network level. No cost to customers, and making it free and easy to use, so the calls can be detected before they get to the customers and kicked off the networks,” he said.
The problem is international. Canada, for example, is rolling out a technology with the acronym STIR/SHAKEN that will notify callers if their call has been spoofed, so they won’t be fooled into answering it, while some telecommunication firms that operate solely over the Internet rather than through switched networks are offering anti-spoofing tools.
If you’ve received a spam call or illegal robocall, whether or not it’s spoofed, the state Consumer Protection Bureau wants to know about it. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 271-3641 (staffed weekdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and messages can be left at other times) or fill out a complaint form at the Consumer Protection Bureau website, doj.nh.gov/consumer.