JEFFERSON CITY—It turns out it's pretty hard for Missouri lawmakers to regulate spam calls.

Reps. Jeff Porter, R-Montgomery City, Steve Helms, R-Springfield, and Jeff Shawan, R-Poplar Bluff, are all sponsoring bills that would attempt to crack down on spam calls, but in different ways:

  • HB 2058 (Shawan): Allows businesses to register for the state's no-call list
  • HB 2116 (Porter): Establishes the Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act
  • HB 2175 (Helms): Adds call spoofing to prohibited solicitations under the no-call list

Call spoofing involves the intentional manipulation of caller ID information. Okay, but why is it a problem?

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who serves on the House General Laws Committee, highlighted potential cases in which the proposed legislation might punish individuals or businesses whose caller information does not identify them but are not trying to intentionally mislead, such as call centers used by business or political campaigns.

"Somebody is misleading if their phone number identifies a different name than what the caller is, but they might be doing it just because that's the system they've set up," Merideth pointed out.

Helms said that, as long as someone owns the number, he would consider it legitimate, saying a key feature of a legitimate phone call is the ability to call the number back. 

HB 2058 would allow businesses to register for Missouri's no-call list, which they are currently not permitted to do. Currently, there are 4.3 million Missouri residential and cell phone numbers on the no-call list, which is overseen by the Attorney General's office.

However, testimony in the hearing indicated that there is limited protection in being on that list.

Assistant Attorney General Brandon Gibson said there are civil and criminal penalties for certain violations of telemarketing rules, but that the issue is difficult to enforce. The AG's office handles civil penalties.

When asked whether there are any additional resources that the Attorney General's office could use to reduce the number of spam calls, Gibson said they are only able to meaningfully look into a small amount of them.

"When it comes down to it, in the universe of all of the unwanted calls that you get, we can maybe address 1% of those," Gibson said, noting the biggest problem with spam calls is that many are made internationally. 

"Even if we could track down the number and be able to find out where the call is coming from, we wouldn't have the jurisdiction," Gibson said. 

Gibson said enforcing criminal penalties falls to local officials.

"Are you aware of any telemarketer being charged criminally for any violations of telemarketing practices," Merideth asked. 

"I am not," Gibson said. 

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

  • Spring 2020 state government reporter. I am a senior studying data journalism. I can be reached by email at ashlynohara@mail.missouri.edu or on Twitter at @ashlyn_ohara.

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