RALEIGH, N.C. — A call from grandma and a call from a scammer can look nearly identical when telephone solicitors mask their real number.
So North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation Monday to require callers to use their real name and number or the information of the business they're representing. The bill passed 45-0 in the state Senate after passage by the House last month and now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper for his decision on whether to sign it into law.
Telephone solicitors often block or trick caller ID to spoof people and make their calls look like they're coming from a local number or from a family member. Under this bill, which already passed the House in May, solicitors who do so can be fined up to $5,000.
The practice of using fake numbers or names is already illegal under federal law, but this bill would give authorities more leverage to go after scammers. The bill also would apply to text message solicitations.
Bill sponsor State House Speaker Tim Moore said that these calls are a top concern for his constituents, particularly the elderly.
"When I went out campaigning this last year ... I heard more about people getting scammed phone calls than any single thing else," he said.
Consumers can elect to be on the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call Registry, which tells companies that they don't want to receive telemarketing sales calls and can complain when companies violate Do Not Call rules.
In 2018, North Carolina had 168,022 "Do Not Call Registry" complaints, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The bill is a starting point to give North Carolina more tools to crack down on robocalls and scams that often rob people of their money, said Rep. Chris Humphrey, a Lenoir County Republican who sponsored the bill.
"The penalties are civil at this point and will begin to make spammers reconsider when making these annoying calls," he wrote in an email.
Humphrey acknowledged that the bill would not stop all spam calls. Many of these calls are hard to trace and may originate from outside of the state or country, making them difficult to prosecute. But the legislation could help North Carolina residents by slowing down the volume of these calls, Humphrey said.
Last fall, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined over 30 attorneys general in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to give telephone service providers more power to block robocalls. He applauded an FCC vote in June that allowed phone carriers to automatically enroll customers in anti-spoofing call programs.
"People deserve protection from these calls that are at best annoying and at worst scams," Stein said in a June statement.