Before the advent of answering machines, caller ID and iPhones, residents would run to pick up a Southwestern Bell telephone before it stopped ringing.

Now that everyone has cellphones, calls are being screened and often unanswered. That’s in large part because annoying robocalls are flooding our phone lines.

You could be offered a government grant or owe past taxes that must be paid pronto. Or you might have a computer virus that simply must be eradicated. With such elaborate scams, it’s no wonder people don’t want to answer the phone.

And they aren’t slowing down. In Oklahoma in 2018, the Attorney General’s Office fielded 7,852 robocall complaints. Already, the agency has received 4,634 complaints this year.

Robocalls are tricky to pinpoint because they can originate overseas, making location a roadblock to prosecution. Plus, many calls are “spoofed” — or deliberately faked on caller ID — and nearly impossible to trace.

Fortunately, help is on the way. State Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, said he’s planning to hold an interim study at the Capitol about this important issue. That’s a good start.

On Thursday, Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter also announced a working group of attorneys general and phone companies battling illegal robocalls. They’ve agreed to adopt eight principles to protect customers and make it easier for AGs to fight this phone scam proliferation.

To prevent pesky robocalls, phone companies pledge to implement call-blocking technology at no cost to customers, provide easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools for free, add technology to authenticate sources of valid callers and monitor networks for robocall traffic.

To assist law enforcement, phone companies should better know their customers so scams can be identified and investigated, take action with the authorities against suspicious callers, trace the origin of illegal robocalls and require contracting companies to cooperate in tracing information.

Excuse the pun, but phone companies must keep the lines of communications open with the coalition of attorneys general for this plan to work. After all, we’d all like to answer our phones again without fear.

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