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Published March 06, 2012, 05:01 PM

Presidential Robo Call Floods North Dakota Phones

BISMARCK — North Dakotans complaining about an automated phone call asking about their preferred presidential candidate don’t need to bother reporting it to the state.

By: Teri Finneman, Forum Communications

BISMARCK — North Dakotans complaining about an automated phone call asking about their preferred presidential candidate don’t need to bother reporting it to the state.

The director of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division received two calls himself and is already on the case.

The call from “Robert” comes from a 703 Virginia area code and wants to know which presidential candidate the caller prefers. The automated message gives no indication of which organization is behind the call.

Brad Boyd of Bismarck said his family received this call on three of their cellphones Monday night, including the phone for his 13-year-old son.

“Three calls within a few minutes to three mobile numbers in the household is excessive,” he said.

Terry Short of West Fargo received calls on his personal and work cellphones and said he didn’t need the “nonsense.”

“I thought calls like that were already illegal in North Dakota?” he said.

Indeed they are. Parrell Grossman of Consumer Protection received the call on his personal and work cellphones and said his office is already in the process of preparing a subpoena to the entity that owns the phone number.

Robo calls for political purposes are illegal in North Dakota and subject to fines up to $2,000 per violation, Grossman said. However, finding out the responsible party isn’t always easy, he said.

“A lot of times, they lease it (the phone number) to someone who then leases it to someone else who may lease it to someone else,” Grossman said. “It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion.”

Even when they do find the final destination of the phone number, the party may claim someone else spoofed the number, he said.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll ultimately be able to determine who was making these calls and contact that entity, but we won’t be certain until we’ve issued one or more subpoenas,” he said.

On Facebook, many North Dakotans were wondering how the robo caller had their cellphone number. Grossman said he didn’t know for sure but it’s possible calls were being made at random to any sequence of numbers in the 701 area code.

“It seems like random dialing to me … That’s my speculation. They have no idea of the identity of the telephone subscriber,” he said. “They’re just calling all landlines and cellphone numbers.”

Grossman said North Dakotans don’t need to report the calls to his office since he’s aware of the problem. If his office identities the source of the calls, they would be able to obtain records of the number of calls initiated that way, he said.

There is no way to avoid robo calls, Grossman said. Some entities do it because they aren’t aware of North Dakota’s law that prohibits the calls. Others don’t care whether the calls are illegal, he said.

“So it really is just impossible to stop these calls,” he said.

Credible campaigns generally are aware of North Dakota’s regulations and will find out in advance what’s permitted, he said.

A Monday post on www.dailypaul.com said it was doing a “RoboBOMB” in North Dakota, though it was not immediately clear if the site was indeed behind the calls.

“Since the robopoll will ID the Ron Paul supporters and volunteers then will only follow up and call Ron Paul supporters … Thus 90% of the people you call will be Ron Paul supporters!” the post reads. “That is the most effective way to get out the vote and use volunteer time, instead of wasting time talking with ‘everyone, and anyone’ to first find out if they are supporters or not.”

The site says it is a “community website with no official affiliation with Ron Paul or his Presidential Committee.”

A message sent through the website for comment was not immediately returned nor was a phone message left for rp2012.org, which is mentioned in the post. Paul’s campaign could also not be immediately reached for comment.