Politics & Government

Tired of telemarketing calls that look like they’re local? This lawmaker is fed up.

‘It’s devious.’ Kentucky lawmaker wants to crack down on telemarketers using ‘spoofed’ local numbers.

State Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, has filed legislation that would ban telemarketers from using fake or phony local phone numbers.
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State Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, has filed legislation that would ban telemarketers from using fake or phony local phone numbers.

Your phone rings. You don’t recognize the number but you see it’s in your area code. Safe enough, you think. You answer and you immediately learn someone is trying to sell you something you don’t want. You have been duped.

Annoying? Very much so, and a Kentucky lawmaker wants to stop it.

State Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisviile, has pre-filed a bill for the 2019 legislative session, which begins Tuesday, that would require anyone who makes a phone call seeking a solicitation or contribution to list his or her true caller identification number or leave it as unknown.

“People are getting bombarded with fake phone numbers all the time. It is fraud and devious,” said Bratcher in a recent interview in his Capitol office.

Bratcher, a retired education supervisor who has been a member of the state House since 1997, said his bill would cover all phone calls except those dealing with police investigations.

The idea for the legislation, said the lawmaker, came from his constituents.

“Practically every one has a story about being bothered by a telemarketer,” he said. “My bill should curb that frustration. Basically, if you call to sell something, you have to put in a true phone number.”

Telemarketers can easily come up with fake numbers through apps, Bratcher said.

“I once got a call from my own phone number,” he said. “You certainly are going to answer your own cell phone number.

“These people who are trying to get to you don’t care how they get connected with you. They are like the old vacuum salesmen who will say anything to get their foot in your door.”

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State Rep. Kevin Bratcher talked in his office in the State Capitol Annex in Frankfort about legislation to stop telemarketers from using phony local numbers. Bratcher, a Republican from Louisville, has filed legislation to stop this practice. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

It’s called “Neighborhood Spoofing” when scammers disguise their phone number and display it as a local number on a user’s caller ID, according to First Orion, a business based in Little Rock, Ark., that says it tries to provide transparency in communications that empowers people to trust their phones again.

It says mobile scam calls in America have increased from 3.7 percent of total cellphone calls in 2017 to 29.2 percent in 2018. It projects that number will increase to 44.6 percent in 2019.

Not only is this spoofing annoying to the person being called, the legitimate owner of the number used to make the call often gets angry return calls from the recipients of scam calls.

Bratcher said he has gotten national attention for the legislation he unveiled earlier this month.

“CNN did something about it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a call from the Speaker of the House in North Carolina, who wants it. The Indiana attorney general is interested in it. I don’t think any other state has this.”

Bratcher’s legislation calls for a fine of $500 for the first violation and $3,000 for every subsequent offense.

He said it still will allow people to call using “unknown” phone numbers. He recalled how he once was with Gov. Matt Bevin and the governor got a call from an unknown number who happened to be President Trump.

The primary problem with Bratcher’s legislation appears to be that it would be difficult to enforce. The bill calls for enforcement by he state attorney general and Kentucky’s Commonwealth’s attorneys, but many of the problematic calls originate in other states or other countries.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said he is “for anything that will limit unwanted phone calls” and is willing to work with Bratcher on his legislation.

He described the National Do Not Call Registry, designed to prevent telemarketing calls for people who don’t want them, “a joke.”

Kentucky had a No Call list but as of June 26, 2007, it has been maintained by the National Do Not Call Registry under the Federal Trade Commission. The national registry is designed to give you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls but Beshear said telemarketers are “winning the day” with improved technology that allows them to be devious or commit fraud.

Hardin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young, president of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association, said he likes the goal behind Bratcher’s bill “but I don’t know how great it will work.”

“I don’t know if he has the right agency to enforce it,” Young said. “Commonwealth’s attorneys now are flooded with felonies in crowded court dockets. I don’t know about us trying to enforce what would be a misdemeanor.”

Young noted that many of the deceitful calls likely originate in other countries. “Those would be extremely difficult to catch but I must admit I got two telemarketing calls today from El Paso, Texas,” he said.

Bratcher said he thinks Commonwealth’s attorneys “can do the job but I would be glad to talk to them if they have any concerns.”

Bratcher said many of the fake ID phone calls come from within the United States. He mentioned “a non-profit whose name you would recognize based in Washington, D.C., that sometimes uses a fake ID to get more access to people.”.

The legislator declined to identify the non-profit.

“As long as you use a legitimate number to call somebody, fine,” said Bratcher. “It’s when someone tries to be devious that upsets me.”

His legislation would be particularly valuable to small businesses, Bratcher said. A painter with five employees told the lawmaker he has to answer every local number.

“He doesn’t want to miss a potential customer, so he answers every call,” Bratcher said.

He said cellular phone companies are “cautious” about his bill. “They want to see how much this would affect phone usage,” he said. “They are reviewing it.”

One phone company, said Bratcher, told him that technology will be in place within a few years to stop fake phone numbers.

“I told them when that day comes, I will be glad to stop my legislation,” he said.

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