AG Ferguson, Rep. Leavitt propose bill to update Washington's robocall laws

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Rep. Mari Leavitt proposed a bill to improve the state's anti-robocalling laws, which they say are "weak and out-of-date."

Their proposed "Robocall Scam Protection Act" aims to modernize Washington's laws. If passed, the law would make it a violation of the Consumer Protection Act to robocall people on the ‘Do Not Call Registry,’ to falsify or "spoof" the caller ID display, and to knowingly facilitate robocalls if you are a voice service provider.

"It’s time to stop illegal robocalls," Ferguson said. "The Legislature must give Washingtonians stronger and clearer legal protections against the daily bombardment of illegal robocalls — and provide additional tools to my office to hold bad actors accountable."

The Attorney General's Office (AGO) says robocalls ignoring the federal Do Not Call Registry are often scammers.

Software company YouMail reports Washington received 616 million robocalls in 2021, 260 million of which were scam calls. Estimates from TrueCaller survey data suggests more than 835,000 Washingtonians were scammed out of money by robocalls in 2021.

 "Our seniors, youth and most financially fragile neighbors are experiencing more and more scams in the form of robocalls and other electronic messages to cell phones," said Leavitt. "These schemes aim to trick many of our neighbors, friends and loved ones. Our uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents are often anticipating calls to schedule needed care like medical appointments. But this also presents a prime opportunity for bad actors to prey on our senior citizens. Last year alone, these scam calls cost Americans billions. Addressing the gap in protections to root out these scams is the least we can do to protect our fellow Washingtonians."

According to the AGO, no Washington laws explicitly prohibit companies from calling people on the Do Not Call Registry. They say there are also no laws addressing robocallers "spoofing" their caller IDs.

The bill is designed to update state law, and also allow for civil litigation against telecom providers who allow illegal robocalls through their networks.

"Washingtonians have had it with the relentless barrage of unsolicited robocalls on our home and cell phones," said AARP State Director Marguerite Ro. "Scammers often use caller ID spoofing to mask their true location, making it appear that they’re calling from a legitimate or local number to raise the odds that you’ll pick up. A 2019 AARP survey on robocalls showed that 60 percent of Washington adults are more likely to answer if caller ID shows a number with their area code. Whether it’s telemarketing spam from companies you haven’t authorized to contact you, or attempts at outright theft, more must be done to protect Washington consumers from this massive increase in unwanted robocalls."

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The bill still allows for automatic dialers to contact existing customers, but the sales messages must be delivered by a live person.

The proposed bill is the latest effort in Ferguson's anti-robocalling initiative.