By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

For many Nevadans, the holidays are a time for family and celebration. Yet this time of year is also a prime opportunity for scammers, so I want to make sure Nevadans are equipped with the tools they need to protect themselves during this busy time of shopping and charitable giving. Every month, Americans receive nearly 5 billion robocalls from automated telemarketers, debt collectors and scammers. And these calls aren’t just annoying; they’re also devastating – Americans lost an estimated $30 million in the first nine months of the year from fake Social Security scams alone. These scammers are preying on unsuspecting people, and rural Nevadans are particularly susceptible.

For rural communities struggling to secure reliable broadband, traditional landlines are their lifeline to stay in contact. But landlines are fertile ground for scammers. That’s because the old-fashioned, copper-wire landline phones that are sprinkled throughout our rural communities aren’t digitized and lack authentication technology. Landlines also have fewer protections against robocalls than cell phones, which are often armed with robocall-blocking options. Given these gaps in protection, scammers are shifting to smaller regional and rural carriers as their targets, especially as major phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon are making headway in blocking robocalls.

Protecting Nevadans from fraudulent schemes was a top priority for me as Nevada’s Attorney General for eight years. Now that new technology has made robocallers’ jobs easier, it’s time for Congress to change the law to better safeguard Nevadans and punish those defrauding Americans. That’s why Representative Susie Lee and I recently introduced the DO NOT Call Act of 2019, which improves enforcement and enhances penalties for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). If it is passed, robocall scammers could face fines including a $20,000 penalty for falsifying Caller ID and up to three years in prison for intentionally breaking TCPA regulations. Additionally, I’ve cosponsored the TRACED Act, which just passed the House and Senate this month by a near-unanimous vote, to crack down on illegal robocalls. The TRACED Act gives regulators more time to identify scammers, increases punishments for violators and promotes robocall-blocking technology. It also brings together federal agencies and state attorneys general to strengthen criminal prosecutions of scammers. I look forward to President Trump signing the bill into law soon.

I’m also grateful for Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford’s efforts to shield Nevadans from robocall predators. He recently joined an agreement with 51 attorneys general and 12 phone companies to combat illegal robocalls. The agreement empowers attorneys general to investigate and punish scammers, as well as establishes guidelines for phone companies to protect phone users through tools like free call-block and authentication technologies.

There are also important steps Nevadans can take to shield themselves from predatory robocalls. When assessing whether an automated message is legitimate, don’t be fooled by caller ID. New technology allows scammers to fake the caller ID information that appears on the phone, and scammers often display a local phone number similar to their targets’ to establish false trust. Never give personal information over the phone, and as best as possible, avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. When a scammer’s call is answered, that number is marked as “live” and is more likely to receive future calls. It’s also helpful to consider whether the automated message is personalized. Generic messages meant to scam wide audiences will lack specifics like names or the time of upcoming appointments. It’s a red flag if the automated message pressures you to make any kind of immediate decision. If you think you’re a victim of a robocall scam, contact the police immediately. You can also call the Nevada Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection hotline at 702-486-3132 or toll free at 888-434-9989.

Rural communities deserve the resources and knowledge to protect themselves from robocall predators. I’ll continue to fight alongside my colleagues in the Nevada congressional delegation, and at the state level, to punish bad actors that intentionally prey on vulnerable Nevadans, while strengthening rural communities’ technological defenses against robocalls. We must invest in robust infrastructure safeguards so Nevada’s rural communities are protected against scammers, especially during the holiday season.