The caller on the other end of the line said he was from Alaska, and he wondered why Larry D. TeSelle of Milford had phoned him with a bogus story about his daughter being in trouble on the interstate.
The problem, TeSelle told the Legislature's Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on Tuesday, was that he had never made the call.
Someone had used commercially available software to imitate TeSelle's cellphone number in an apparent scam in a growing phenomenon known as "spoofing."
Nearly half of all cellphone calls made in 2019 will originate from scammers, according to a report from First Orion, an Arkansas-based telecommunications company. Some of those calls will appear to be made from phone numbers that appear familiar to the recipient.
Spoofing has "effectively hijacked" the advances made in telecommunications over the past few decades, said Sen. Steve Halloran, and has “become the scourge of reputable telemarketing companies.”
Halloran has introduced the Neighbor Spoofing Protection Act (LB693), which would make call spoofing “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” illegal in Nebraska.
"This changing of the number and source location ID poses significant risk, not only to those receiving the call, but also to the person or business whose number has been spoofed,” Halloran said.
Tim Schram, a member of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, told the committee spoofed calls were the No. 1 complaint made to the Federal Communications Commission in 2018, and is a focus at the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Enforcement is difficult, particularly because most of these calls are internet-based or coming from overseas," Schram said. "Finding the source of these calls is difficult, if not impossible."
As federal efforts to crack down on call spoofing ratchet up, LB693 would give Nebraska more tools to help with enforcement, Schram added.
The Nebraska Attorney General backs the proposal, said Meghan Stoppel, chief of the AG's Consumer Protection Division, which would be charged with investigating and enforcing the law at the state level.
Stoppel also said an amendment to the bill offered by Halloran focused its efforts on preventing spoofing "with intent to defraud," which aligns it with federal law and would prevent court challenges.
“It enables our office to take meaningful steps to address the rapid proliferation of these annoying and unwanted calls,” Stoppel said.
Two opponents to LB693 — Eric Carstenson, president of the Nebraska Telecommunications Association, and Julia Plucker of the Nebraska Cable Communications Association — said while they agreed with efforts to prevent spoofing in the state, they urged lawmakers to wait until new federal rules could be enacted, preventing a patchwork of state laws that would make it difficult for telephone companies to navigate.
Halloran said while he has misgivings the federal government will act quickly enough to address the issue, he was willing to work with colleagues to improve the bill.