AG to partner with feds, businesses to double down on illegal robocalls

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is partnering with federal regulators and Michigan businesses in an education and enforcement effort targeting illegal robocalls. 

The attorney general announced the initiative to crack down on the roughly 1.3 billion robocalls made to Michigan residents so far in 2019 Friday alongside the Federal Communications Commission, Better Business Bureau and the Telecommunications Association of Michigan. 

The effort will include education efforts, partnerships with various stakeholders, legislation to hone in on offenders, and increased enforcement, Nessel said at a press conference announcing the initiative. 

“Our robocall crackdown will position Michigan as the leading state in our effort to provide a roadmap for other states,” Nessel said. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is partnering with federal regulators and Michigan businesses in an education and enforcement effort targeting illegal robocalls.

As part of the initiative, Nessel’s office has set up a website with advice on how to identify a scam call, will create a “scam tracker” of recent offenses and allow residents to report robocalls at or at 877-765-8388. 

The team will work with carriers to create “do not originate” lists preventing scammers from making robocalls with government numbers and work with state and federal officials to develop legislation tailored to the current robocall landscape in Michigan. 

Some of those legal changes would include clarifications in the legal definition of a robocall, updates to reflect current technology, increased penalties and closed loopholes. 

Nessel’s office also has set up monitored phone lines with which to track and target illegal robocalls. 

The effort was in part spurred by the listening tours that Nessel held through the Elder Abuse Task Force this year, during which seniors consistently complained about a plague of robocalls. 

“They are very specifically targeted,” Nessel said. “…I could not believe how many seniors had been taken advantage of and had lost significant amounts of money.”

Illegal robocalls include those selling goods or services for more than $25, those providing false caller IDs, or any calls where a caller does not provide a full name or phone number.

Legal robocalls include those from businesses and people given permission to contact an individual, those requesting money for a charity or public service organization, or those from political parties or political action committees, Nessel said. 

"I say all this knowing most residents neither understand nor care about the difference," Nessel said. "They just want the robocalls to stop.”

The attorney general’s office has tracked robocalls in the past and taken some action against illegal robocalls, but the new effort is “stepping up our enforcement effort big time,” said Wisam Naoum, an assistant attorney general working in the department’s corporate oversight division. 

“We really think that we can start to crack down on this,” he said. 

Michigan residents’ reports to the attorney general’s website will be integral in both tracking data on the issue in the state and in enforcement efforts, Naoum said. 

The agreement between the attorney general’s office and the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission will allow the state and federal agencies to share information on enforcement action and bad actors within the state. 

“At best these kinds of robocalls make each of us suspicious when our phones ring,” said Lisa Hone, deputy bureau chief of the commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau. “…At worst, they are the vehicle for stealing millions and millions of dollars from hardworking Americans.”