Ohio bill would ban phone “spoofing” robocalls

Posted at 8:33 AM, Oct 27, 2021

COLUMBUS — A bill to tighten laws on telemarketers to ban “spoofing” — making a call appear to come from a different, often familiar number — unanimously passed the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 54 had already passed the Senate, so it could be headed for a full House vote and Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk soon.

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, introduced the bill in February. It passed the Senate 31-1 in May and moved on to the House Criminal Justice Committee, where it passed after a third hearing.

Jason Smith, AARP Ohio associate state director, submitted written testimony Tuesday in support of a ban on spoofing.

“We have heard about our members being targeted for fraud by promising access to COVID-19 vaccine waitlists and utilizing the confusion about scheduling appointments across Ohio to obtain personal and banking information,” he wrote.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost backed the bill. In February, he told legislators that two Texas companies spoofed more than 56 million robocalls to Ohioans.

To target spoofing directly, SB 54 would prohibit an intended fraudster from making a caller ID service “transmit inaccurate or misleading caller identification information.”

Normally, telecommunications fraud is a fifth-degree felony. But under SB 54, if the target is elderly, disabled, an active-duty service member or spouse of an active-duty service member, it would be a fourth-degree felony. A fourth degree felony carries a potential sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The bill would bring Ohio law in line with the federal Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, its Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It would prohibit anyone from giving “substantial assistance or support” to a caller they know is going violate the TCPA.

Yost created the Ohio Attorney General’s Robocall Enforcement Unit. As of last month, the unit has fielded more than 55,000 complaints about unwanted calls, with self-reported estimates of losses approaching $10 million.

Robocalls are prerecorded voice calls from telemarketers and scammers, who often use cheap and easy autodialing technology, according to federal regulators. Robocalls can be made over the internet and originate from all over the world.

The Dayton region received more than 16.5 million robocalls in September, according to YouMail, which tracks robocalls. That works out to more than 550,000 per day.

YouMail estimates that about 42% of those robocalls calls are alerts or payment reminders, but that about 31% are scams.