Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter was contemplating how to describe for state legislators the growing menace of telemarketers’ effective use of technology to thwart caller ID services.
Then, the sheriff’s phone rang. His caller ID indicated it was placed from 913-828-3550. He smelled a spoof.
“I answered it because I knew it was going to be a spoofed call,” Easter said. “It was an automated call from Visa credit card services wanting me to sign up for a credit card. I hung up and called the number back. The phone was answered by KVC Health Systems. The nice person on the other line stated I had the wrong number.”
KVC Health Systems is a nonprofit child welfare and behavioral health care organization. It wasn’t responsible for pitching a credit card to the sheriff.
This exchange illustrated frustration felt by consumers in Kansas and elsewhere on the receiving end of spoofing solicitations. Companies can now place these calls from anywhere in the world to any living room in Kansas, but caller IDs incorrectly display an area code familiar to the consumer. The trick is effective in nudging more people to answer what frequently turn out to be nuisance calls.
The technology also has become a tool of suspects in domestic violence cases who conceal their real telephone number while calling to intimidate a victim.
“Citizens of Kansas are being scammed and harassed due to phone spoofing,” the sheriff said. “It is time for the Legislature to take action against phone spoofing.”
Easter was at the Capitol on Tuesday to support House Bill 2620, which would alter the state’s consumer protection law to make it a crime to download, purchase or utilize spoofing technology in association with wireless, broadband or other telecommunications service. The committee took no action on the bill.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee that new state law on robocalls would have limited impact because of the massive volume of calls placed with VoIP technology from overseas at virtually no cost to the merchant. He compared the proposed anti-spoofing bill to emptying the ocean with a spoon.
“Our ability to enforce current law ... is limited by our ability to find the bad actors who are doing the calling,” Schmidt said. “We would caution that passage of additional legislation is unlikely to have a noticeable effect in reducing robocalls since, in most cases, these callers are already in violation of state and federal laws.”
He said regulatory changes adopted in June by the Federal Communications Commission and the December passage of a federal law signed by President Donald Trump would require telecom companies to do more to fight robocalls and spoofing. In 2019, an estimated 58 billion robocalls were placed to U.S. numbers.
“It’s a technology-enabled problem. It’s got to be a technology-resolved problem,” Schmidt said. “I continue to believe the solution to this problem must also be technology that allows these calls to be detected and blocked before they reach a consumer’s device.”
Executives of Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offered neutral testimony on the House bill. They touted industry efforts to counter the robocall scourge and urged state legislators not to add state regulation on top of recent federal actions.
Patrick Fucik, who represents Sprint in Overland Park, said the House bill wasn’t necessary given progress at the national level to encourage telecommunications companies to do more for consumers.
“While all carriers compete fiercely in the marketplace, we all agree that the industry-wide plague of robocalls and scammers must be tackled arm-in-arm with other carriers as we put the latest technology to work to help protect our customer,” he said.