Menendez Tells NJans Frustrated with Unwanted, Pernicious Robocalls: ‘If It’s Uncle Sam, HANG UP; It’s a SCAM’

scam uncle samAs local law enforcement battle an increase in calls from scam artists posing as agents of the IRS demanding payment of alleged back taxes, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today warned the public of a provision buried in the federal budget agreement that will allow federal agencies or third-party companies to call individuals to collect debt owed to or backed by the Federal government, including back taxes, student and federal loans. Menendez is fighting to kill this provision which he says will do more harm than good.

“People must be protected from over-the-phone predators trying to steal your money,” said Sen. Menendez. “Not only does this budget provision open the flood gates to more nuisance phone calls interrupting dinner and family time, but it blurs the line between what is legit and what is a complete and utter fraud. It erodes the work we’ve done to better protect people from unwanted phone calls, like pushing for increased ‘Do Not Call’ protections, it leads to confusion and—worst of all—it unnecessarily increases the risk of falling victim to a scam.”

Menendez was joined by Linden Police Capt. James Sarnicki, Leonia Police Chief Thomas Rowe and Det. Michael Jennings, and Linda Maiorana, a constituent from Bloomfield who received several phony IRS robocalls.

“I, myself, received numerous phone calls from a female claiming to be with the IRS stating that I owed large sums of money and that if I didn’t call back and make arrangements for payment, a lawsuit would be instituted against me,” Ms. Maiorana said. “These calls were over a three-to-four-day period.”

Last month, a 44-year-old Linden woman lost $5,100 to a caller claiming to be working for the IRS. In September, Leonia Police successfully apprehended two suspects allegedly implicated in IRS phone scams. In their community outreach, both departments have been advising their residents that the federal government won’t call you to collect money, and anyone who says they are is a fraud.

“The telephone and the computer have become the new instruments of crime in modern day law enforcement,” said Capt. Sarnicki.

During the press conference, Menendez played a recording of a recent phone call from a scammer posing as an IRS agent. In the recording, the scam artist threatens legal action if the person did not pay alleged back taxes.

“Over the past several years, an aggressive and sometimes sophisticated phone scam has bilked taxpayers out of millions of hard earned dollars. In some cases, people have had their savings completely wiped out,” said Chief Rowe.

Currently, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Fair Debt Collection Protection Act (FDCPA) restrict how debt collectors can call a cellphone to collect a debt, unless the debtor has granted prior permission. For the last 25 years, it has also been illegal for other companies to use auto-dialing equipment to call a person’s cellphone.

If the budget bill provision is allowed to go into effect, millions of Americans could be subjected to more unwanted cellphone calls and the door will be widened for more scam artists to cheat victims by posing as agents of the government – through calls to both cell and landlines — under the guise of the new law.

“To prevent taxpayers from falling victim to these scams, we have been providing them with warnings to minimize their chances of becoming a victim. One of the warnings we have issued is that the IRS will never call you on the phone and that all correspondences will be through the mail,” Chief Rowe continued. “This legislation will undoubtedly cause many more people to fall victim to the IRS phone scam as they will be unable to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. This legislation sends a confusing message to taxpayers and should be repealed immediately.”

Last week, Sen. Menendez co-sponsored the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls (HANGUP) Act which repeals Section 301 of the Budget Act of 2015 that exempts callers collecting debt owed or guaranteed by the federal government from key provisions of the TCPA. Specifically, Section 301 removes the current requirement for a caller to have the called party’s consent before making autodialed or prerecorded cell phone calls or texts for the collection of debts owed or guaranteed by the federal government.

“I support Senator Menendez’s legislation to restore the call block and urge all members of Congress to pass this very important legislation,” Chief Rowe said.

Menendez has also been a leader in strengthening protections against unwanted phone calls. Earlier this year, the senator introduced and passed an amendment to the FY 2016 budget resolution to strengthen the National Do Not Call Registry. He also signed a letter to FCC Chairman Wheeler requesting that the FCC maintain the strong consumer protections contained in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that help prevent auto-dialing from telemarketers.


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