State Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomington, speaks Tuesday about his plan to beef up telephone solicitation restrictions during a meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications in the Indiana House chamber. Staff photo by Dan Carden
INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier legislators are looking to strengthen Indiana's telephone solicitation restrictions, even as they acknowledge there's little law enforcement can do since the unwanted, and often illegal, sales calls typically originate outside the state's jurisdiction.
A General Assembly study committee learned Tuesday that nearly 4,000 telephone solicitation complaints have been filed so far this year with the attorney general's office.
But that's likely just a tiny fraction of the unwanted calls received by Hoosiers since there were more than 4.2 billion "robocalls" placed nationwide in just August, an increase of 26 percent compared to last year, according to Marguerite Sweeney, senior deputy attorney general.
"We estimate from the complaints that we do get and analyze that at least 70 percent of unwanted calls are attempted scams," Sweeney said.
She said those include "phishing" scams, where a caller poses as a business, utility or tax authority to try to get a person's credit card or Social Security numbers; unwanted credit solicitations; phony insurance or health care offers; and disreputable computer updates or auto warranty protection.
Sweeney cautioned that Hoosiers whose telephone numbers are on the "Do Not Call" list still are liable to receive such offers, since scammers generally don't care if they are following the law and may not even be located in the United States.
Indiana statutes prohibit most businesses from calling numbers on the state's "Do Not Call" list, restrict the use of auto-dialing machines and bar Caller ID "spoofing" to make a distant telephone solicitation appear to originate locally.
Sweeney said the attorney general's office pursues civil penalties against people and businesses that violate those laws when the office gets enough information to build a case.
Though she said the associated misdemeanor criminal penalties often aren't worth the effort of county prosecutors to file charges, or local authorities don't have the resources to track perpetrators who can be located anywhere in the world.
Nevertheless, state Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomington, is interested in expanding the liability for unwanted telephone solicitations to include the executives of any company making such calls.
He also is looking to file legislation when the 2019 General Assembly convenes in January that better protects businesses from unwanted calls, and makes it easier for Indiana to partner with other states on enforcement.
"If we can have cooperate agreements between AG (attorney general) offices or those enforcement agencies, just like we do on drug smuggling and all the other higher crimes, I think it would mean a lot to every state," Ellington said.