An attempt to legislatively cut robocalls has come one step closer to becoming reality in Ohio.

Introduced on Feb. 9 as Senate Bill 54 by State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, the new legislation would create the offenses of theft for conversion of a telephone number or exchange, and providing misleading caller identification information.

The Telecommunications Fraud bill passed out of committee last week and moves on to the full Senate.

“Criminals are constantly using illegal robocalls to manipulate and trick many people out of their precious time and hard-earned money,” Gavarone said. “This legislation is a big step forward in our fight to better safeguard Ohioans from fraud and scams over the phone.”

She said the bill is meant to stop criminals from using or repeating a telephone number, exchange or misleading caller identification information that is not assigned to the person, with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

If passed, the Ohio attorney general would be allowed to prosecute offenses of unauthorized use of property and telecommunications fraud, and prohibit any person, entity, or merchant from violating the federal Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, as well as the Telemarketing Sales Rule.

Gavarone said that several years after federal legislation was put in place to curtail the annoying and possibly costly calls, several types of robocalls continue to come in on both landlines and cell phones.

The federal act requires the Federal Trade Commission to define and prohibit deceptive telemarketing acts or practices related to unsolicited phone calls, as well as restricting the hours when unsolicited telephone calls may be made. There are also separate laws specifically related to do-not-call lists.

Gavarone worked with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to define penalties for specific violations.

“It mirrors federal law, but also does some additional things which broadens protections. It creates a civil penalty per violation, or $1,500 if the statute is knowingly violated, it prohibits attempts to defraud via spoofing, or using someone else’s phone number, it also enhances the penalty to a fourth-degree felony if the victim is elderly, disabled or an active duty service member, or their spouse, and allows the (Ohio) Attorney General to present evidence of telecommunication fraud to the county prosecutor,” Gavarone said.

She added that when the Ohio attorney general presents evidence of fraud to the county prosecutor if no action is taken within 45 days the Ohio Attorney General can then take up the prosecution.

“I’m hoping to get that to the floor next time we get to session,” Gavarone said.

Once passed by the Senate the bill would then move to the House, before it could be signed by the governor.

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