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May 13th, 2009
11:51 AM ET

Senator wants end to fraudulent 'robocalls'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Senator Charles Schumer wants to put an end to fraudulent robocalls."]

We’ve all received them – phone calls from a machine saying the warranty on our car is set to expire. It seems the "robocalls" are annoying to everyone, including lawmakers.

New York senator Charles Schumer got one of those calls. And now he's working to put an end to what he is calling consumer fraud. He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Wednesday.

Kiran Chetry: I got confused and I am sure other people get confused. I thought they knew it was my car. I thought they knew what they were talking about. And so it really is not only an issue of annoyance but also that they're not pedaling something that's legitimate. Is that correct?

Charles Schumer: This is consumer fraud, A-101. Yes, they call everybody. They call randomly. They call people who don't have cars. But unfortunately there are too many people who are gullible, particularly with everything going on with Chrysler and GM. And they ask you for your credit card and they take $200, $250 off. And, leave you open to credit card fraud. So first job here, consumers should not respond to this. If you're worried about your car warranty, call the company that issues the car.

Chetry: You and your colleague Senator Mark Warner want to do something about it. You want to ask the Federal Trade Commission to take action. How big of a problem do you think this is, besides being a nuisance and what do you hope the FTC can do?

Schumer: Well, we know that just about everyone has gotten these calls and repeatedly. By the way, another minor annoyance, when you press two, they still call you again. I pressed two the first time I got the call and I've gotten them three or four more times. There are four levels of problem. A) It's annoying. B) They have pierced the Do Not Call List. You notice, you don’t get cell phone spam much, except these folks. Third, of course it costs money if you don't have the right plan. But worst of all, many people are duped and lose lots of money for no reason.

We've asked the FTC to do a full-fledged investigation of this. It shouldn't be hard to track down who these scammers are, because after all, you follow the money. They've got to get the credit card and cash it in. The FTC has been very cooperative. They sent us a letter yesterday saying there's an investigation in progress. And we look forward to hearing from them soon about what they're going to do about it. They have the powers. This is a criminal violation of law. And they have the powers to go after these people. We just need them do it.

Chetry: One of the challenging things is usually when one site gets shut down, for example on the internet, they just set up shop under a different name or credit card or whatever. How effective do you think the FTC will be if you do get this passed in actually stopping these calls?

Schumer: You know, with people with viruses, it's nearly impossible to check out because you don't have to follow-up to them. But with this, you need to follow-up to them. You need to give them a credit card number. They've got to cash in the money on that credit card and the money has to be sent somewhere. So it's much easier to find out who they are and go after them and I believe the FTC is confident they can go after them.

We don't know how many different groups there are. If it is one group from a bunch of different phone numbers but I think they’re going to get to the bottom of it soon and stop this scam which, at the very least is annoying to millions and millions of people, and at worst, can cause you to lose thousands of dollars through identity theft by giving them your credit card number. People should, again, not respond to this. If your warranty is up, call GM, call Chrysler. If you're wondering if your warranty is up, call them. Don't rely on these calls.

Chetry: Is there any hope for anybody who has been scammed to get their money back in this situation?

Schumer: We will have to see. We'll have to see if they still have money in the bank account. I'm sure the FTC will try to freeze it as quickly as possible when they find them.

Chetry: All right, good luck. I bet you there are a lot of people who don't have your cell phone number but these robocallers do. How about that one?

Schumer: Isn't that amazing? I mean I don't give my number out to many people and these guys called me four or five times. The last straw, I was at a hearing on health care, in the middle of something intense. You see the number on the phone, and you say well maybe that’s one of my kids who is calling from a different number and you pick it up and get this call and it does alarm you at first, it does. But when you think about it, nobody is calling you to do this. You should check it out and call the right person.

Filed under: Crime
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Kim Brandt

    Pending formal action from the Federal Trade Commission, the American Teleservices Association (ATA) is speaking out against companies believed to be behind a national wave of spam "robocalls" warning people that their auto warranties are about to expire and stating that they need to sign up for a new service plan. The American Teleservices Association, a non-profit professional trade association representing the contact center industry, condemns such practices and strongly supports the removal of such fraud. Association and industry leaders are calling on their contacts in Washington, as well as various State Attorneys General, to quickly focus on anti-fraud enforcement. The ATA is suggesting that congressional hearings be conducted to address legislative action against these illegal calls that are affecting thousands of consumers nationwide. Today, the ATA also contacted representatives at the FTC and pledged its continued support of their efforts to protect consumer rights and legitimate use of the phone to conduct business.

    May 13, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  2. Jackie in Dallas

    About time, Senator. And while you are at it, you might make robocalls from political campaigns (whether legitimate or fraudelent) fall under the same contingency. I'm not registered with any party, although I am registered to vote, and I got over 50 robocalls from the GOP in September and October last year. Not one from the Dems. AND I'm on every DO NOT CALL list available!

    May 13, 2009 at 1:05 pm |