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Michigan AG Nessel, Ohio AG Yost Lead National Bipartisan Effort to Expand Illegal Robocall Response

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is leading a bipartisan coalition of 52 attorneys general in calling on USTelecom – the leading organization representing telecommunications providers – and its Industry Traceback Group (ITG) to continue its collaboration with state attorneys general by bolstering technological capabilities to improve enforcement against illegal robocallers. 

In a letter sent today to USTelecom cosponsored by Nessel and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the coalition is urging the association to further develop robocall traceback and other tools suited to law enforcement needs. 

“The issue of illegal robocalls is a nationwide concern, and I’m proud to stand with a bipartisan coalition of my colleagues from across the country in working to address it,” Nessel said. “Far too many people have accepted robocalls as a normal part of their everyday lives. The unfortunate reality is that we expect the number of robocalls to continue climbing if we don’t take quick and aggressive action. Law enforcement agencies need the right set of tools to combat this pervasive issue, and furthering this collaboration is a step in the right direction.” 

The letter asks USTelecom to advance the ITG’s abilities in identifying robocall campaigns, trends and business ecosystems; conducting automated traceback investigations; and coordinating with relevant law enforcement agencies. 

A key part of that action would be for USTelecom to develop and roll out an online platform to collect live data from carriers and robocall-blocking apps. When USTelecom or a law enforcement agency detects an illegal robocall campaign, the law enforcement agency would then be able to submit a subpoena to USTelecom in a streamlined online portal.  

The process would allow for rapid review by USTelecom and provide law enforcement agencies the ability to expedite subpoena procedures and access the platform to quickly retrieve relevant data. The platform would bolster law enforcement investigations and could potentially lead to attorneys general offices issuing temporary restraining orders that could stop a live robocall campaign in its tracks. 

Attorney General Nessel launched an initiative in November to crack down on illegal robocalls in Michigan. Since then, the office has received more than 3,000 complaints. The top three topics mentioned in complaints submitted to the Attorney General’s office – with examples of the calls – are: 

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In the past four months, the Attorney General’s website on its robocall initiative has received more than double the amount of visitor traffic (13,426 hits) than the website for its second-most visited initiative (human trafficking, 5,260 hits), which underscores the importance of the robocall issue to Michigan residents. 

The coalition’s letter follows a January 2020 meeting in Washington, D.C., with representatives from state attorneys general offices, federal agencies and the telecom industry. Some priorities developed at that meeting include: 

  • Automating and increasing the total volume of traceback investigations; 
  • Alerting relevant law enforcement agencies of suspected illegal robocall campaigns; 
  • Enabling law enforcement agencies to electronically upload and receive responses to subpoenas and civil investigative demands, and providing swift response to those requests; and 
  • Identifying noncooperative Voice Service Providers, including those that don’t participate in the traceback process, repeatedly originate or accept illegal robocalls, or repeatedly fail to provide sufficient records. 

The coalition believes these measures would strengthen the partnership between the USTelecom-backed ITG and attorneys general, a relationship that led to the creation of the Anti-Robocall Principles. Those principles were established in August 2019 when 51 attorneys general and 12 major telecom providers took aim at reducing the number of unwanted and illegal robocalls reaching the American people. 

More recently – and due in part to the support from the telecommunications industry and state attorneys general – the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act was signed into law by the federal government. This law enables the industry to develop call-authentication protocols to combat caller-ID spoofing and implement other sweeping anti-robocall measures. 

Joining Nessel in signing the USTelecom letter are the attorneys general of Ohio, Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

How to Report a Robocall in Michigan: 

The best way to deal with robocalls is to simply hang up or don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. However, to aid investigators in their efforts to hold robocallers accountable, certain pieces of information are extremely helpful to the department’s efforts to investigate, particularly when submitted to the Attorney General’s office as part of an official complaint

  • Robocaller’s phone number; 
  • Your phone number and service provider (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.);
  • The date and time of the robocall;
  • Whether the robocall was soliciting goods or services worth at least $25; and
  • The topic of the robocall scam (e.g. student loans, Social Security numbers, IRS liability, etc.). 

Please note:  Robocalls to landlines cannot be traced back so any complaints about landline calls cannot be used to further the department’s investigation.