I-Team: Ohio AG says new law aimed at dialing back robocalls jamming Ohio phones

OHIO — The number of robocalls coming into Ohio hit 16.6 million last month alone, according to robocall blocking subscription service Nomorobo.

Aaron Foss Nomorobo’s founder and told the News Center 7 I-Team, after a lull at the start of the pandemic, robocallers are now calling phones in greater numbers.

“When the pandemic first happened, robocall volumes plummeted because all of the call centers all around the world shutdown basically overnight,” Foss said in a virtual interview from his office in New York. “Overtime now, we’ve seen it level back to pre-pandemic levels. The call centers are back, the bad robocalls are back and it’s still a really big problem that’s really affecting consumers.”

Foss said he defines a robocall as “any unwanted call.”

“It’s kind of like the definition of spam e-mail,” Foss said. “If you don’t want to get it, we consider it a robocall.”

The I-Team teamed up with Nomorobo to get a sense of how many and the types of robocalls coming into Ohio and the Miami Valley. Foss said the 16.6 million robocalls that came into Ohio in December 2021 accounted for 21.5 percent of all incoming phone calls across the Buckeye State.

Foss told the I-Team data from his company showed the top five most common robocalls that came into the 937 area code in December 2021 were for scams that he classified as “buy your house,” “air duct cleaning,” “fake political charities,” “fake cancer charities,” and “fake political charities” scams.

Nomorobo is a subscription service. It’s free for a landline and charges $2 a month, or $20 for the year, for a mobile subscription.

But News Center 7 asked Nomorobo founder, Aaron Foss, to reverse that process and send robocalls from all over the country to one of our cell phones.

The result was a phone that rang about once every 30 seconds with pitches for business listing errors, social security disability benefits, buying heavy equipment, energy billing savings, car warranties, and Medicare benefits, among others.

It’s easy to see why people, including many in the Miami Valley, hate getting these calls so much.

Mike Hughes lives in Brookville and says he gets, “probably two or three” robocalls a week. Patti Mundey, in Springboro, says she gets “on average, 6 to 8 every day.”

Robocallers have tried scamming Hughes and Mundey out of their money. Hughes told the I-Team a common one he gets is from someone claiming to be from Amazon.

“It’s that someone has purchased an iPhone on my account and that they have shut it down for security reasons and that I need to dial 2 to get security to talk to them about the issue,” Hughes said. “The social security one has come up several times too. Where they say your social security account is going to be suspended and your social security number is going to be inactive and that you need to press a certain number to talk to somebody to clear the issue up.”

Mundey says the scammers making robocalls to her landline and her cell phone give all sorts of excuses too.

“We get a lot of time share calls thinking we have a time share and do we want to sell our time share,” Mundey said. “And we try to convince them we don’t have a time share, this is a permanent residence. But they insist we do. Or it could be car insurance for a car that we even haven’t had for several years. Things like that.”

Ohio is toughening its robocall laws after Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 54 into law on December 1. The bill is aimed at strengthening the state’s telecommunications fraud laws. The bill will go into effect March 1, 90 days after getting the governor’s signature.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told the I-Team about the new law in a one-on-one interview in Columbus last month.

“What it does is it matches up state law with federal law,” Yost said. “Which means that I can now use the tools that are available through the United States code to go after these folks.”

Here’s what else the law does: it makes spoofing illegal. Spoofing is where robocallers change caller ID info to make it inaccurate or misleading -- scammers want to make the number coming into your phone look like it’s one you know, making it more likely that you’ll pick up the call.

The law also increases criminal penalties for robcalls in Ohio if the victim is elderly, disabled or a military member or their spouse.

Lastly, Yost said, the calls don’t have to originate in Ohio for the AG’s Office to pursue scammers. As long as the calls are targeting Ohioans, Yost says his office can go after them.

“My goal is by the time we’re done, these robocallers are going to have a sign up on their computers: ‘Don’t call Ohio,’” Yost said.

Foss told the I-Team when he started Nomorobo eight years ago, there were “very few” robocall laws on the books. But now, Foss says, the federal government as well as multiple states have passed more of those laws.

“And it really has impacted the volume of robocalls,” Foss said. “At a peak, it was over 42 percent of all calls in the United States were illegal and unwanted robocalls. Again, now we’re down to 30 percent, which is fantastic. We still got a long way to go. But I really applaud all of the states that are trying to make stronger laws to prevent these robocalls from getting through.”

Hughes and Mundey say they hope Ohio’s new law achieves the state’s goal and cuts down on those annoying robocalls in the Miami Valley.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Mundey said. “Because people – and older people too – I think have – it’s harder for them to distinguish between a real call and what’s a scam. And I think it’s good to protect everybody by having something like that.”

“Well, you can create laws, but you can’t stop the thieves,” Hughes said. “I hope they get it implemented and I hope it’s a great success. If they stop one, that’s a bonus. We’ve succeeded in stopping one person from scamming many people.”

Ohio’s new robocall law takes effect March 1, 90 days after Governor DeWine signed it. The I-Team will track its progress and work to see whether it makes a difference cutting down on the number of robocalls coming into the state.