Nessel announces robocall crackdown in Michigan

Attorney General Dana Nessel announces a crackdown on robocalls, Nov. 15, 2019 | Anna Liz Nichols

Relief from unwelcome dinnertime calls and calls asking seniors for banking information is coming. 

Michigan is cracking down on robocalls, as Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced at a press conference Friday a taskforce of state and federal partners to combat the issue.

Deputy Bureau Chief of the Federal Communications Commission Lisa Hone said technological advances in the past few years have made the number of reported robocalls skyrocket.

“At best, these kinds of robocalls make each of us suspicious when our phones ring. They interrupt our work and intrude on our time with our families and our friends,” Hohn said. “At worst, they are the vehicle for stealing millions and millions of dollars from hardworking Americans.”

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The effort to clamp down on robocalls is supported by state and federal organizations, including the Federal Communications Commission, AARP of Michigan, Elder Law and Disability Rights Section of the State Bar of Michigan and the Federal Trade Commission.

To preface information about illegal robocalling, Nessel clarified that some robocalls are legal and said they:

  • Come from a party that an individual has given prior permission to contact them or from a person or business for which an individual is already a customer
  • Request in-person meeting to pitch a sale
  • Come from a political party, political action committee or a politician
  • Request funds for charitable organizations or public safety organizations

However, illegal robocalls: 

  • Try to sell goods or services for more than $25
  • Call individuals on the National Do Not Call registry
  • Do not provide the person they are calling their names, who they are calling on behalf of or a phone number to reach a live operator
  • Come from callers where the caller ID number is fake or inaccurate

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Nessel and others outlined the 12 initiatives to stop robocalling, cracking jokes about the annoyance of robocalls, but reminding the public that illegal robocalls can impact everyone and often target the state’s most vulnerable.

With new education efforts such as a “scam tracker” for Michiganders to learn about current and past scams and a statewide speaking tour to help residents protect themselves, the attorney general’s office hopes to equip those receiving calls with information to avoid being scammed.

The tactic illegal robocallers typical use is fear, said Melanie Duquesnel and Phil Catlett, CEOs of the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, respectively. These callers threaten to shut utilities off or trick individuals into thinking something will go wrong with their businesses or loved ones and trick people into giving personal information.

Economically speaking, Catlett said illegal robocalls can be catastrophic to trust between businesses and consumers.

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“Illegal robocalls don’t just impact consumers; they impact nonprofit communities,” Catlett said. “We’ve heard that illegal robocalls erode customer trust from both sides of the equation, from businesses and consumers. Consumers who are inundated with questionable offers are going to be even less trusting every time a company contacts them, even businesses with a good track record.”

Michigan is trying to lead endeavors to limit robocalls, said Assistant Attorney General Wisam Naoum, who’s heading antitrust enforcement. As Michigan weighs action in the Legislature to combat illegal robocallers, advocates are looking at existing laws in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina to see what’s working.

Attorney General Dana Nessel | Michael Gerstein

“The Michigan law does need to be strengthened to give our office the tools and abilities to enforce these more proactively and more thoroughly, including the ones that will simply just be annoying,” Naoum said.

Nessel is serving as acting governor on Friday, as the Advance first reported, since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson are all out town. When asked at the press conference how her term was going, Nessel joked, “I haven’t had to declare war on Ohio.”