Robocallers Fined $225M; May be Blocked by Carriers

John Lister's picture

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined two telemarketers a record $225 million for unlawful automated "robocalls." The offenders, who used names including JSquared Telecom and Rising Eagle, made around a billion such calls in a five-month period.

The fine isn't just a record for robocalls, but is also the largest ever issued by the FCC for any reason. (Source: cnbc.com)

The calls claimed to offer health insurance plans from well-known legitimate providers. In fact the calls were made on behalf of several companies, at least one of which has already been sued for its own telemarketing violations.

Do Not Call List Abused

Posing as the legitimate provider was likely unlawful, as was the fact the telemarketers knowingly called people who'd signed up to Do Not Call lists. One of the telemarketers admitted intentionally targeting those people as it was more profitable to do so - likely because they were more likely to answer the phone, assuming incoming calls would be legitimate.

What the FCC actually issued the fine for, however, was a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. The telemarketers had unlawfully manipulated phone systems so that the recipients of calls saw bogus information about the supposed caller. Doing that with the intent of causing harm or gaining financially is against the law.

To make things worse, a genuine business whose ID was among those faked by the scammers was overwhelmed with people calling to complain after receiving the misleading calls.

Scam Callers May Be Blocked

The fine was approved unanimously by all four FCC commissioners. Acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that despite the record fine, the FCC needs to do more. She announced a new "Robocall Response Team" bringing together legal and technical experts to identify current gaps in both laws and enforcement. (Source: fcc.gov)

The FCC is also sending final warning letters to six call service providers believed to be offering robocall services that break the law. The letters give them 48 hours to stop any unlawful activity. If they don't, the FCC's first step will be to authorize phone carriers to simply block all calls from the providers.

What's Your Opinion?

Is the size of the fine justified? Is there any point in a Do Not Call list if companies can simply ignore it or will this act as a deterrent? Do you have a problem with unwanted or misleading calls?

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Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

I'm glad to read that a company was fined this amount for disregarding the law. Unfortunately it won't be enough to stop all automated robocalls, especially those created by malware authors.

In this case, a smartphone becomes infected from a malicious app, then starts robocalling. When the person on the other end picks up the phone, it's a computer generated voice making threats that you're going to jail due to tax violations (IRS / CRA) unless you "speak to an agent now" - in which case, you're forwarded off to a scammers in India.

Since tax season started, I've received on average 8 to 10 calls a day from these types of robocalls from all over the country. Another major issue is scam call centers (such as the Microsoft tech support scam) overseas making these types of calls.

More needs to be done to the law to prevent this from happening.

kevinb478's picture

would be nice if when one of them call and you could find out where it was coming from and if possible have a person who's good with hacking on computer to hack into their system without them knowing it and delete all their files and put a undetected Virus in there system that would permanently disable it and possibly wipe out their hard drive to where it impossible for them to use the computer

PhotoSci's picture

You might want to look at some of the You Tube videos by "Jim Browning" (just put his name--a pseudonym--into th You Tube search box). Browning has not only traced dozens of on-line scammers, he's also managed in some cases to take down their systems.

Alas, doing this with robocallers and other phone crooks is more of a challenge, but if they are in the United States and you can get a real phone number out of them, you can report them for violations of the Do Not Call list and get part of the fine.

Dennis Faas's picture

This guy is my hero. Whenever I have a client that has been scammed by the Indian scammers I recommend they watch his videos, so they know the full extent of the scam.

gi7omy's picture

I haven't had one of these for a very long time now. They sort of stopped when, in a moment of total frustration (and a bit of time to spare) I decided to let the idiot go through his spiel:
"click on the bottom left and open..."
"Umm - I don't have anything at bottom left - it's at top left".
"OK - open that and look for ...."
"I can't see ....".
This went on for several minutes and then:
"Well what do you see?" I promptly listed off the apps and a puzzled Indian accented voice asked:
"What version of QWindows are you using?"
"Oh - I don';t use Windows - I use Linux"

A very frustrated CLICK as the line went dead (and they never called back)

oadbyPC's picture

Was it not always obvious that companies that are unethical enough to spam call users would use the Do Not Call List as a "honeypot" of active phone numbers? Which is why I've always refused to sign up to the UK one; hardly anyone knows my number!

If I do get a random phone call, I just answer and put them "on hold" until they hang up; the phone call may not cost them anything but the time sure does!

LouieLouEye's picture

I think it's great that the FCC is finally punishing robocallers. But the big question is whether they will pay the fine or just claim bankruptcy. I notice there is no mention of jail time for these scammers. So, it's file bankruptcy/ change company name and officers/ back in business.

ifopackets_10683's picture

"They gave them 48 hours to stop......."
I was wondering why the amount of (blocked-by-nomorobo)calls increased
a LOT today and recently.

jhstokes_14664's picture

> Is the size of the fine justified?

ABSOLUTELY!!! The only thing better would be for each RoboCall recipient to have the option of pushing a button to destroy the caller's equipment!

PhotoSci's picture

I hope we'll see a follow-up on how much (if any) of that $225 million fine actually gets collected. These operators are clever enough to structure their businesses such that the assets subject to judgement are usually miniscule. The company then files for bankruptcy, and the owners move on to their next scam--usually the same con under a new corporate name. It's part of the cost of doing business.

matt_2058's picture

Being on the DNC list is useless anymore, so any amount of fine is not enough. Spoofing local numbers should get them an even bigger fine. A person sometimes needs to answer unknown local numbers, and should be able to without fear of a telemarketer confirming it's a good number. Nowadays, I ask which company they are and report it to the FCC. Reminding the caller that there's a fine for calling people on the DNC list usually results in them hanging up immediately.

I used to enjoy having only a cell and didn't get any telemarketing calls. Then the callers started blind-calling cell numbers. I kept a athletic whistle on the coatrack next to the garage and would step into the garage and let loose! Then one guy just laughed and cursed me, so I guess they're using volume-limiting headsets now.

buzzallnight's picture

Beat to death by people with phones!!!!!!

Interestingly during the worst of the covid scare
all telemarketing stopped,
why?

dlhamilton_13391's picture

I have not noticed scam calls go down due to COVID. It seemed to stay the same for me.
The 224M fine is too small. If they don't pay, than life in prison would be the answer without the possibly of prole. They really need to find the BIG FISH here in the US who is running these scams and using foreign people to make the calls and collect the personal info from victims for the big fish in the US. I believe that the people running the scams are right here in the USA.

Dennis Faas's picture

Based on my experience in dealing with online / phone scams for the last 7 years, I can tell you unequivocally that the big time player scammers are overseas. They have money mules in the USA and all around the world moving money for them. The local guys take their cut then send the rest back overseas. Many of the scams come from India, especially in regard to the IRS, CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), and tech support scams.

Watch this video which details exactly what I said (by James Browning / tech support scammers in India):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le71yVPh4uk

Here is another video showing a CRA scam based out of India:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rlfsm8Y-ZCE