Robocalls are targeting seniors in WMass

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GRANVILLE, Mass. (WESTFIELD NEWS) – Elizabeth Lawrence is an 85-year old Granville resident who has been pestered by obnoxious robocalls on the hour every day for some time now.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, robocalls are “unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls to land line home telephones, and all auto-dialed or prerecorded calls or text messages to wireless numbers, emergency numbers, and patient rooms at health care facilities.”

In a letter to The Westfield News, Lawrence stated that she has been informed to call her telephone provider, but said that getting through to them has been a waste of time. She added that she has called every Do Not Call number available, yet the calls haven’t stopped.

“These calls are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and ask to press one or press three to acknowledge that you’ve received the call,” said Lawrence, adding that these calls will tell her that her grandson needs bail money, even though she has never had a grandson, and that they will also ask to speak with her husband.

Lawrence said she has called state Sen. Don Humason, Jr., R-Westfield, and state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga, R-Southwick, asking for legislation to be filed to end robocalls.

“They are very sympathetic, but nothing is done,” said Lawrence. “They also say in saccharine voice to get caller ID. How simplistic. I do not know anyone who doesn’t have caller ID or hasn’t registered for Do Not Call.” Lawrence added that when she receives these annoying calls, her own phone number shows up as the caller ID.

Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), FCC rules limit many types of robocalls, though some calls are permissible if prior consent is given. These rules also differentiate between land line and wireless phones, and while Humason said he has received complaints, filing legislation to stop these calls isn’t an easy job.

“Nobody seems to like robocalls. There are some, like political robocalls, that are First Amendment protected,” said Humason yesterday, and added that Do Not Call lists have not seemed to deter these bothersome calls. “It seems that technology is advancing faster than the laws permit us to address it. A lot of these calls are generated from outside of Massachusetts, which makes them harder to regulate.”

Humason said that there is no quick fix to the problem. “Whether it’s the Department of Public Utilities or the Attorney General’s office or changing the laws, it doesn’t seem to address the problem,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is, but I feel like the problem is going to be with us as long as we have phones.”

Jillian Fennimore, deputy press secretary for the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, said Healey’s office fields thousands of inquiries pertaining to various scams being perpetrated from out-of-state or internationally by mail, Internet, or telephone, and can help direct consumers to the appropriate agency to file a complaint.

“Depending on the method of contact, we refer consumers to the United States Post Office if it is a mail scam, or if it is phone calls, faxes or e-mails – including robocall concerns – we’ll refer them to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission),” said Fennimore.

She said that bringing scam artists to justice can be a difficult task.

“The FTC and the United States Postal Inspection Service have prosecuted many of these companies criminally and civilly, but many disappear before action can be taken,” she said. “In many cases the companies or individuals that perpetrate these schemes are based in other states or countries. They hide their true ownership, thereby making prosecution very difficult.”

Detectives in the Westfield Police Department said that they have seen a recent spike in the amount of scam-type phone calls due to the time of year. “It’s tax season, so as of late, the usual calls we receive are ‘the IRS called me’ types,” said Detective Steve Dickinson, adding that he’s received about four such calls about scams in the past two weeks.

“Obviously they know it’s a scam because if the IRS wants to get a hold of you, they mail you something,” Dickinson said. “We just tell them to warn their friends and family and to never give out any personal information to any caller claiming to be the IRS.”

In addition to notifying police, anyone who is being pestered by robocalls and scams are urged to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office and to also log onto the state’s website and read the Savvy Seniors guide to avoiding scams targeting the elderly, as well as information on Do Not Call lists, prerecorded telemarketing calls and other phone solicitations.

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