By Shelby Mullis
Editor’s note: This is the 14th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.
INDIANAPOLIS — As scammers and hackers target Hoosiers and their pocketbooks, legislators are searching for a cure.
House Enrolled Act 1444 works to strengthen the law when it comes to punishing telemarketing violators and hackers using ransomware.
“It’s just one more tool in the toolbox to close what might have been perceived as a way out for someone trying who was trying to not be found liable for telemarketing calls that are occurring,” said Indiana’s Director of Consumer Protection Margo Sweeney.
Robocalls continue to plague the country with more than 2 billion calls made each month, according to a study from the Federal Communications Commission.
That 2 billion number is what led Rep. Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne, to search for a solution against these calls.
The new rules not only hold the person violating the state’s statute accountable for a violation, but also hold the person that instructs the other person to make the call liable.
Sweeney said telemarketing procedures often have multiple layers, making it difficult to hold all parties involved accountable. This legislation makes the law clearer.
“You get a call and you’re not hearing from the person who is prepared to supply you with the product or service, you’re hearing from someone who is gathering information to sell to someone else who might then hire a third party to call people to see if they’re interested in the service,” Sweeney said, “then pass it on to the fourth party who might have an appointment to supply the service.”
File photo of a cellphone. Photo by Zoie Richey, TheStatehouseFile.com
Hoosiers can add their name and number to the “Do Not Call” list to prevent most telemarketing calls, but does not block all chances. If you receive a call, you can report the call to the General Consumer Protection Division.
The best strategy to avoid scammers and robocalls, according to the attorney general’s office, is to not pick up the phone.
The legislation also creates tougher penalties for hackers who break into computer systems and install ransomware, a type of malware used to lock a computer system and demand a ransom before unlocking the system.
Under the measure, hackers could face an average nearly six years in a Department of Correction Facility for a Level 5 felony, or an average a nearly three year sentence for a Level 4 felony.
Dave Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said ransomware is becoming an increasingly common issue for people across the country, especially for businesses and government agencies.
“Police officers, along with everyone else in the public sector, are under a lot of pressure to work different types of cases,” Powell said. “When you have murders, robberies or gun violence going on, you have a crime that is low level, you tend to focus on the more serious crimes.”
With enhanced penalties, Powell said law enforcement will have a greater interest in spending more money and resources to enforce and prosecute these offenses.
“This will help not only deter, but create incentive for more aggressive law enforcement and prosecution,” he said.
Victims of a ransomware attack are encouraged to report the incident to the Indiana State Police.
The new penalties go into effect on July 1.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.