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Robocalls in SC: What's being done to stop them

Last year, over 1 billion robocalls were reported in South Carolina. Over 410 million were to the Columbia area.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Will there ever be a day we say goodbye to annoying robocalls?

Last year, South Carolina reported over 1 billion of them. Everyone can agree they're a nuisance.

In fact, robocalls continue to be the top complaint to the FCC every year. The auto warranty robocalls were the top unwanted call complaint of 2020.

News 19 is part of a company-wide investigation involving television stations from across the country, looking into robocalls and what can be done about them.

RELATED: Could you get more robocalls in the future because of a Supreme Court ruling?

"A lot of these calls, on their best day are nothing but a nuisance. On their worst day it's an absolute crime," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. "We have our senses heightened about how we're going to address the 'robocall pandemic' as I call it."

Credit: TEGNA Robocall Investigations Locator Map

For years, Wilson has worked with a coalition of state attorneys general to lobby federal agencies to crack down on robocalls.

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"Pushing the telecommunications industry and working with them to continue to develop consumer friendly protocols and safeguards in place to protect consumers or at least warn consumers but also a law-enforcement and identifying where the origination source of these robocalls are coming from," said Wilson.

Among the biggest challenges, he says, are tracing these calls and building technology to prevent them all together.

"It's kind of like that game Whac-a-Mole," said Wilson. "When you beat the bad guy up here he pops his head up over here because the technology's shifted and we're always playing catch-up."

Right now at the federal level, the TRACED Act helps better identify where calls are coming from, reduces the amount of calls spoofing local numbers, and helps phone companies block these illegal calls before they reach consumers.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act limits telemarketing calls and texts to wireless devices.

"We have some really great protections, theoretically, but there's a lot of legal challenges to those protections," said Consumer Protection Lawyer, Dave Maxfield.

Maxfield, who also teaches Consumer Protection Law at USC, says many robocallers can get around the law by claiming people gave them consent to call.

"If you look at any contract you sign, any sort of financing agreement, buried in that language you're going to find places where you are consenting to be called on a wireless device," he explained.

Keep in mind, certain robocalls like debt collector calls and political calls are legal under federal law.

On a local level, in 2018, state legislators passed the South Carolina Telephone Privacy Protection Act.

It's designed to replicate certain elements of existing federal laws but it's also directed at people trying to spoof local area codes.

"From constituent after constituent, I talked to lots and lots of people who said, 'Isn't there something we can do?'" said State Senator Greg Hembree, who represents Horry and Dillon counties.

Credit: WLTX

The following year, Hembree worked to see how robocalls could be further addressed on a statewide basis, but learned the federal government was already working on it.

He drafted a resolution supporting their efforts.

"I think on that resolution I might've had 43 co-sponsors," said Hembree. "I wanna say it was adopted unanimously."

As robocalls persist, Hembree plans to revisit the issue in an upcoming legislative session.

"On the solicitations I'm gonna take another run at it and see if we can figure out another strategy to attack it on a state level and make it a little harder," he said.

RELATED: Who are the victims of robocalls?

On June 30, a new order by the FCC will take effect, enforcing a limit of three robocalls to consumers each month.

"So you're sort of seeing, what I hope is the last gasp of all these calls that we're going to get," said Maxfield.

To help cut down on these calls right now, here's what you can do:

Credit: WLTX

Please note that it's highly recommended you read the terms and conditions before installing call-blocking services on your phones. If you call your phone company and ask about call-blocking services, be sure to ask if there's a monthly fee.

To learn more about joining the Do Not Call List, click here.

RELATED: We tracked down a serial robocaller. This is what he said.

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