FCC and Senate teaming up to take down robocall scams

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- This holiday season, phones will be ringing, but they are not all calls from loved ones. Folks across the country are receiving scam "robocalls" now more than ever. The federal government is hoping to give the gift of a widespread crackdown.

"Robocalls represent the biggest category of complaint that we get from consumers," said Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai.

He says the FCC is empowering cell carriers to block texts and calls that look suspicious. They are also slapping scammers with hefty fines.

"The largest fines in the FCC's history have been imposed over the last 18 months to go after robocallers who are using this as a business model," said Chairman Pai.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) is working to get the FCC more resources. His bipartisan "TRACED Act" would allow the FCC to go after "robocallers" for up to three years after a call is placed. In addition, Thune says fines are not enough; he wants a looming threat of criminal prosecution.

"The illegitimate side of that industry have pretty much accepted the fines as a cost of doing business," said Thune.

While criminals make their money, an expert tells us Americans are footing a large bill.

"I suspect they're in the billions of dollars just in the opportunity cost of the time the consumers spend on the phone," said Jon Mayo from Georgetown University.

Mayo says there is a technological battle underway between scammers and the government. He says with 7 billion scam calls in October alone, the problem is only getting worse.

"It's not clear that we're winning the battle, but we're fighting the good fight," said Mayo.

If Senator Thune's legislation doesn't pass before the end of the year, he'll have to try again in the new Congress.