Nebraska lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill providing the attorney general more latitude to investigate call spoofing, particularly those that mimic phone numbers to defraud others.
The Neighbor Spoofing Protection Act (LB693) from Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings would not stop spoofed calls from happening, but with an amendment adopted Tuesday, it empowers the state's top law enforcement officer to "pursue nefarious calls."
Senators voiced support for giving the attorney general more tools to pursue spoofers, who use technology to imitate phone numbers familiar to someone with caller ID to obtain money or other valuables.
Several legislators related their own recent experiences.
Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann said he routinely receives calls from a Crawford phone number about renewing his insurance; Sen. Rob Clements of Plattsmouth said someone claiming to be his grandson asked for money to get out of jail in St. Louis; and Sen. Julie Slama of Peru described how she kept a caller demanding $2,600 on the line for 30 minutes.
"If we can eliminate this, particularly the using numbers that look familiar, this would be a hallelujah to every Nebraskan," Hilkemann said.
But Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson cautioned the Legislature that Halloran's bill would not prevent spoofed phone calls from happening.
It's a problem the federal government will need to tackle through regulations, he said, before local phone exchanges can adopt new technology to prevent those calls from being connected.
Seizing on that point, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers equated the bill with "swatting at mosquitoes," adding by the time the Legislature creates a way to prevent the spoofed calls from happening, the callers will find a new scam to pursue.
"Technology is constantly moving," he said. "You all are in a stagecoach trying to catch a Ferrari."
Sen. Megan Hunt, also of Omaha, introduced a floor amendment that would prevent local telephone companies from being prosecuted by fulfilling their obligation to connect the phone calls, even if those calls are fraudulent.
The post office is not held liable if a threatening letter is delivered in the mail, Hunt said in explaining her amendment.
It was adopted by a 29-11 vote over the objections of Halloran and Slama, who said it was redundant to language already in the bill, potentially "neutered" the attorney general's enforcement authorities, and preempted an amendment being crafted by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers that would have touched upon the same issue.
"I hope Sen. Hunt's amendment doesn't tie one arm behind the attorney general's back when we start swatting at these mosquitoes," Halloran said after the vote on Hunt's amendment.
The Legislature later advanced LB693 from general file on a 40-1 vote, with Chambers casting the lone "no" vote.