AUGUSTA — A bill that would ban telemarketer robocalls in Maine has received unanimous approval on Thursday from the Legislature’s Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.

The bill now must go before the Senate and the House for further votes before it can get final approval.

The bill, LD 277, “An Act To Ban Telephone Solicitations Using an Artificial or Prerecorded Voice and Enhance Caller Identification,” is sponsored by District 31 Senator Justin Chenette of Saco. District 31 covers Hollis, Limington, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and part of Buxton.

Robocalls are automated telephone calls which deliver a pre-recorded message. Robocalls are sometimes used by emergency management agencies or school departments to get out information to a mass of people in a short time, but they can also be used by scammers misrepresenting a company or service.

LD 277, if passed, would gives the State Attorney General’s Office the authority to enforce this ban on automated and prerecorded voice robocalls as an unfair trade practice, specifically on the grounds that the telemarketer’s intent is to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully profit off the communication.

According to YouMail, a company which makes call-blocking software and tracks robocall data, nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in the United States in 2018. About 27 billion of these calls were classified as scams or telemarketing.

The top three robocall scams in 2918 were health or health insurance related scams, interest rate scams and student loan scams, according to data from YouMail.

“It’s astonishing how many robocalls were made nationwide in 2018,” said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici in a written statement. “We’re now talking about 150 or more robocalls for every adult in the U.S. over the course of the year, and many of these robocallers are unwanted scammers trying to trick people out of their money or personal data.”

Last month alone, 11.8 million robocalls were placed to phones with a 207 area code, according to YouMail. Among the top robocall scams in Maine last month were travel scams, debt collection scams and interest rate scams.

Many scammers pray on older people, and seniors are reportedly scammed out of about $2.6 billion a year.

Chenette said one way this is happening is through caller ID spoofing, through which an out of state number is disguised as a local number, said Chenette in public testimony in February.

“People see the 207 number and think its local (and) could be a neighbor, friend or family member,” said Chenette. “You are more likely to answer the phone if it’s a local number than not.”

The Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee has recommended some exemptions to the ban, according to a press release from the Legislative Aid Nadia Stovicek. These exemptions would include calls made from nonprofits, services acting on behalf of nonprofits, telecommunications carriers, schools, emergency messages from government agencies, and robocalls to individuals who have provided consent to receive this type of communication.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected]

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