Each year Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services releases Florida residents’ top gripes about business’ bad behavior. And typically leading the list — by a long shot, with nearly half of overall complaints in 2016 and 2017, for example — are the telemarketers and robocallers who violate the state’s “Do Not Call” law.
But as of this week, Florida residents got some much-needed help in this regard.
A new state law, sponsored by state Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and state Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, empowers telephone companies to proactively block calls from numbers of suspected robocallers, or “spoof” callers, or those who utilize a fake number to disguise the real number from which they are calling.
Grimsley has said her advocacy was based on personal experience. She had to deal with “Elizabeth,” an aggressive and annoying prerecorded telemarketer who made repeated calls to Grimsley in an effort to sell her a vacation package.
Federal and state laws already prohibit much of this activity. For instance, consumers who enroll on the federal or state do-not-call lists are supposed to be shielded from such calls, except under certain circumstances, which can include having a prior relationship with the company or if the call comes from a charity, pollster or political campaign.
Yet, as a House staff analysis of the new law noted, “Many robocalls and spoofed calls are made without regard to the laws in place to prevent them.” One reason is that these callers utilize new technology to circumvent the lists.
Grimsley said another key reason for that is the phone companies themselves weren’t permitted to block such calls, except when people were members of the do-not-call registry.
This new law changes that, and should help reduce such activity.
What’s noteworthy about this new law is that it builds on the work of the industry.
According to the House analysis, the Federal Communications Commission in 2016 urged the telecommunications industry to help address this problem, and from that emerged the Robocall Strike Force. One task force recommendation entailed the creation of a “Do Not Originate” list, a compilation of phone numbers known to be illegitimate. Last November the FCC adopted the recommendation, which also helped form the basis of Florida’s new law.
Under the new statute, telecom providers can now block calls if the customer requests so after recognizing a number is for inbound calls only, if the number is not a valid phone number (such as consisting of just one repeated digit), or if the number has not been allocated to a provider or has been allocated but has not been used or assigned to a customer.
As the government acknowledges, no law is perfect. So it’s possible the scammers and the irritating “Elizabeths” will still find a way through this electronic wall. But we appreciate the work of Grimsley, Killebrew and the rest of the Legislature to help reduce consumers’ frustration level and protect them from the fraudsters.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Ocala StarBanner, a sister paper of the Daily News with Gatehouse Media.