The Federal Trade Commission this week scored court settlements to shut down four separate robocall operations that the agency says were the source of billions of unwanted and illegal robocalls across the country.
Defendants were responsible for robocalls ranging from pitches for auto warranties and debt-relief services to fake charities and Google search results. One defendant provided a software platform to others that resulted in more than 1 billion robocalls, the agency said.
Under the settlement orders, announced Tuesday, the parties are prohibited from robocalling and most telemarketing activities and will have to pay substantial fines.
“We have brought dozens of cases targeting illegal robocalls, and fighting unwanted calls remains one of our highest priorities,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The FTC named NetDotSolutions and TeraMESH, and owner James Christiano, in one complaint, which says the companies operated a software dialing platform that can blast out a large volume of phone calls in a short period. This software was licensed to a recidivist robocaller involved in separate FTC lawsuits, along with computer server rack space that enabled him to hit consumers with more than 1 billion illegal robocalls each year.
Christiano was charged for conduct including facilitating calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, calls with spoofed caller IDs, and calls that hung up when consumers answered.
In addition to being banned from using an automatic dialer or robocalling, the order levies a $1.35 million judgement against Christiano and his companies. Business partner Andrew Salisbury and World Connection SA each face $2.7 million judgements, while related company World Connection LLC received a $1 million judgement.
The second robocall operation, Higher Goals Marketing, contacted consumers pitching scam debt-relief services. The eight defendants named in that case received a $3.15 million judgement, which the FTC says will be suspended once they turn over all available assets.
The third operation, run by Travis Deloy Peterson through Veterans of America, was a scam that made millions of robocalls posing as fake veterans’ charities to get consumers to donate cars, boats, and real estate among others, which he then sold for his own benefit. Peterson is banned from robocalling and soliciting charitable contributions. The order levies a $541,032 judgement, which the FTC says will be suspended once he hands over significant assets including 88 vehicles.
The final operation is Florida-based Pointbreak Media, which scammed small business owners by claiming to represent Google and threatening businesses that they would be removed from search results, or alternatively have first-page placement. The scheme collected a one-time fee from consumers ranging from $300-$700 to prevent their business as being labeled “permanently closed.”
As part of that settlement order, Michael Pocker received a $1.93 million judgement, along with a $3.62 million judgement against his companies related to the scam. Steffan Molina was hit with a $1.74 million individual judgement and a $3.63 million judgment against his companies. The order imposes a $1.81 million judgement against business associate Ricardo Diaz.
Verifying Legitimate Calls
With nearly 48 billion robocalls placed in the U.S. last year, according to AP, it’s a widespread issue that’s garnering attention at a variety of levels. Federal agencies have made combatting robocalls a top priority, as states consider legislation and carriers work to deploy STIR/SHAKEN verification, which lets consumers know that an incoming call is truly coming from the number that is displayed.
AT&T and Comcast this month announced they successfully authenticated and verified calls between the providers’ two separate voice networks using the STIR/SHAKEN protocol—believed to be a first in the U.S. AT&T and Comcast intend to start offering authentication for calls between networks later this year.
Earlier in March, T-Mobile expanded its free scam protection service ‘Caller Verified’ feature to seven more devices. Debuted in January, the feature is T-Mobile’s implementation of the FCC-recommended STIR/Shaken standard to alert mobile users of and prevent against likely spam or scam calls.
High-Risk Robocalls Decreasing
A new report from Transaction Network Services (TNS), found that only 10 percent of scam or fraudulent robocalls originate from numbers owned by the top six U.S. carriers (including Comcast and CenturyLink), despite those operators accounting for three-fourths of total call volume.
“The low volume of high risk robocalls across top U.S. carrier networks suggest robocallers continue to capitalize on networks and numbering resources from non tier-1 carriers,” TNS said.
The report also found that while nuisance robocalls rose 13 percent, high risk robocalls, which try to acquire personal information or money, actually decreased 18 percent in 2018 from 2017.
“The decrease in high risk robocalls suggests recent FCC enforcement actions, such as record fines, alongside proactive carrier and industry efforts that leverage analytics are starting to have a positive impact,” TNS said in its release.
It’s not just federal agencies and carriers; states are taking action against robocalls as well.
New York legislators proposed a measure that would ban telemarketers from using automatic dialing technology to call a New York resident for commercial reasons without prior consent, according the Associated Press.
The bill, which passed a state Senate committee Tuesday, also calls for a $2,000 fine per call against companies that violate the rules. Telephone companies would also have to provide services to consumers enabling them to screen and block robocalls, at no additional cost.