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Robocallers and spammers who "spoof" -- display a familiar-looking number to trick phone owners into answering -- would be charged with a felony under a bill that unanimously passed in the Senate on Monday.

Senate Bill 514 -- sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Rep. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale -- was initiated by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

"I am thrilled that the Senate passed the bill unanimously and look forward to a similar vote in the House," Rutledge said in an emailed statement. "We must work together regardless of political party to solve problems affecting all Arkansans."

SB514 would raise the penalty for spoofing from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Spoofing is when a caller falsifies information, such as using a local phone number prefix or a personal name, that is displayed on caller identification to disguise their identity and increase the likelihood that the recipient will answer the call, according to the Federal Communications Commission website. The tactic is often used by those with fraudulent motives as a way to get personal financial information, the website said.

The response in the Senate was jovial as Dismang presented the bill.

Laughter broke out on the Senate floor when President Pro Tempore Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, asked if it was "true that this is the most popular bill of the session?"

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

Sen. Mark Johnson, D-Little Rock, said his wife told him not to come home if he didn't vote for the bill.

Johnson then asked Dismang how out-of-state or out-of-country scammers could be reached for prosecution.

"A problem for the attorney general's office is -- and you guys have probably experienced it if you've made a phone call in -- is that it's impossible to trace those back at this point," Dismang said. "We're hoping that with the utilization of new technologies, we'll be able to do some of those tracebacks and actually prosecute those individuals making those phone calls."

Rutledge said in a Feb. 10 guest column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that "the sheer volume of spoofed robocalls originating out of country turns efforts to identify the source into a perpetual game of whack-a-mole as different phone numbers are continuously used."

SB514 would also put the onus on telecommunication companies to implement preventative measures to stop the illegal practice by requiring an annual report to the Arkansas Public Service Commission detailing the steps taken to identify and block the robocall perpetrators.

"The PSC would then take all that information, compile it then, hopefully, one of the outcomes will be best practices that can later on can be adopted here in the state," Dismang said.

Dale Ingram, spokesman for AT&T, declined to comment when asked about the possible impact of the bill.

Messages left for a spokesman for Windstream Holdings were not returned as of late Monday.

In November, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a staunch call to telecommunications companies to adopt the SHAKEN/STIR protocol, which uses authentication technology to identify false numbers.

Dismang said all legislators have likely heard of the issue from many of their constituents.

"You hear about it all the time," Dismang said. "It is a problem and one we want the providers to be proactive about here in the state."

A Section on 03/26/2019

Print Headline: Bill to steepen robocall penalty in Arkansas clears Senate, moves to House


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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    March 26, 2019 at 6:45 a.m.

    I'm all for this bill, but the problem is still prosecution. It will be difficult for a state like Arkansas to persuade telecom carriers to implement measures to prevent this when they are gaining revenue from the call volumes. Until something is done at the federal level, this will be tilting at windmills.

  • GandKW
    March 26, 2019 at 7:31 a.m.

    You have to catch them first.

  • Knuckleball1
    March 26, 2019 at 7:33 a.m.

    Good Idea but no way to enforce...!!!! I for one am tired of getting calls from what seems like a local number but if calling it back it is a non-working number.

  • adrink
    March 26, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    This is a great piece of legislation that should be passed in the House. We need to put an end to the constant harassment of unwanted nefarious calls. This legislation can be used to encourage our congressional delegation to take some action at the federal level that will be meaningful. Congress, it is time to act.

  • Popsmith
    March 26, 2019 at 10:53 a.m.

    How about a Wanted Dead or Alive reward for robocallers.
    These people interrupt my day and night. The time stolen just by interruption has to be significant.
    The phone companies could stop this if they wanted to. Now AT&T will block robocallers FOR A FEE! Who's being ripped off??? I am!!

  • Illinoisroy
    March 26, 2019 at 12:11 p.m.

    or just don't accept calls from numbers not in your contact list. If it is important they will leave a message.