Feds to South Florida robocaller: Pay all of record fine, Abramovich

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in a statement of considerable length, says a South Florida robocaller’s arguments don’t wash and he should pay every penny of a record $120 million fine.

As The Palm Beach Post reported, the FCC found Adrian Abramovich of Miami “is the perpetrator of one of the largest — and most dangerous — illegal robocalling campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated, making nearly 100 million robocalls in just a three-month period.”

The calls disrupted emergency lines, tying up a medical paging company among others, and misled consumers to think they were getting deals from companies like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Marriott and Hilton, officials said. Instead, consumers were directed to a discount-travel call center not affiliated with those firms, according to investigators.

Officials say making prerecorded telemarketing phone calls to people without prior consent is prohibited, and so is making them to emergency lines and deliberately falsifying caller ID to disguise identity with the intent to harm or defraud consumers.

Here’s the full statement from FCC chairman Ajit Pai issued Thursday:

“After the FCC proposed fining Adrian Abramovich $120 million last year for allegedly engaging in a massive spoofed robocall scheme, we gave him the chance to contest the allegations.  Mr. Abramovich did in fact respond to our Notice of Apparent Liability.  That response is more notable for what it doesn’t say than what it does.

Specifically, Mr. Abramovich doesn’t dispute that he was responsible for placing 96,758,223 robocalls during a three-month period in 2016.

He doesn’t dispute that all these robocalls were made without the recipient’s consent.

And he doesn’t dispute that all these robocalls were accompanied by inaccurate caller ID information, making it appear as though they were coming from the same community as the party being called, a practice known as ‘neighbor spoofing.’

What Mr. Abramovich does have to say in his defense isn’t very convincing.  For example, he asserts that he had ‘no intent . . . to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.’  But if so, why did he include fraudulent caller ID information with each and every one of his 96 million robocalls?  Friendly visitors don’t wear disguises to mask who they are.  And why did the recorded messages indicate that the calls came from well-known travel or hospitality companies such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton, and TripAdvisor, even though they were attempting to sell vacation packages at destinations unrelated to those named companies?

Moreover, Mr. Abramovich didn’t just have the intent to defraud or cause harm.  He actually caused harm.  Just ask his victims—a number of whom are elderly—who were duped into purchasing travel deals under false pretenses.  Or ask Spōk, a Virginia-based medical paging service whose emergency communications services were disrupted by a flood of robocalls attributed to Mr. Abramovich’s companies.

Mr. Abramovich also claims that the consumers who received these robocalls were only harmed if the calls lasted for at least five minutes.  So he says he should only be penalized for calls that long or longer.  With all due respect, this is a ridiculous argument.  I haven’t met a single American who likes getting these kinds of robocalls, regardless of length.  And in any case, our rules against caller-ID spoofing certainly don’t permit spoofed robocalls so long as they string you along for 4:59 or less.

Tough enforcement is a key part of the FCC’s robust strategy for combatting illegal robocalls, and this Forfeiture Order represents a big step forward in our enforcement efforts.  This is the largest illegal robocalling scheme that the FCC has investigated to date, and we are appropriately imposing a $120 million forfeiture in response.  This is the largest forfeiture in the history of the FCC.  Our decision sends a loud and clear message: this FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.

We would not have arrived at this result without the hard work of the Enforcement Bureau’s dedicated staff.  They spent countless hours combing through the evidence and pulling investigatory threads together.  I want to thank Vilma Anderson, Tamara Baxter, Jonathan Garvin, Lisa Gelb, Rosemary Harold, Richard Hindman, Lisa Landers, Latashia Middleton, Nakasha Ramsey, Stacy Ruffin Smith, Michael Scurato, Daniel Stepanicich, Kristi Thompson, Kimbarly Taylor, Kim Thorne, Melanie Tiano, Bridgette Washington, and Lisa Williford.  You will continue to have our support as you seek to bring to justice the scofflaws and scammers who for too long have been bombarding Americans with unlawful robocalls.”

Attempts to reach Abramovich or an attorney were not immediately successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robocalls: Feds OK new tools to fight IRS scam, others

Consumers receive an estimated 2.4 billion illegal robocalls a month, and many come with caller ID that can make it look like calls are from across town or an official government agency like the IRS.

Federal regulators took action this week to make it easier for phone companies to block some of these numbers before they ever get to your phone.

The idea is to allow “phone companies to proactively block calls that are likely to be fraudulent because they come from certain types of phone numbers,” the Federal Communications Commission said about rules approved Thursday.

Take calls that seem to be from the IRS to collect taxes owed, a common scam. The IRS does not operate that way, but many spooked consumers do not know that and are victimized by fraud or identity theft. Sometimes automated messages threaten fines or prison unless you call a certain number or take some action to pay up quick.

Bad actors often use “spoofed” numbers that are not really the source of the call. In some instances, they use this trick: They select real IRS phone numbers that only work on inbound calls, and don’t dial out, to carry out their impersonation, officials say.

Now such numbers can be placed a “do not originate” list that phone companies can consult to block the calls. Also targeted for blockage: Numbers with area codes that do not exist, numbers that have not been assigned to a legitimate user and similar red-flag categories.

To file a complaint about a caller you suspect is falsely claiming to be from the government or otherwise using a false identity, let the Federal Trade Commission know:

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

 

 

 

Senate toughens spoofing laws as robocaller fined $81M

Update 5 p.m.: The U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation Thursday to crack down on spoofing, or falsifying caller ID.

The bill whose sponsors include Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson aims to strengthen a 2010 law that prohibits scammers from altering caller ID information on calls made in the U.S.  The legislation expands that ban to spoofing using text messages, calls made over the Internet and calls originating from a foreign country.

“Fighting scam artists is like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole,” Nelson said. “Once you think you’ve stopped them, they find other ways to continue to carry out their scams.  This bill will better enable the government to punish fraudsters who use new technologies to pray on unsuspecting victims.”

The House passed a similar but not identical version in January.  The Senate bill now heads to the House where they can opt to take it up and send it to the president or choose to go to conference on it, Senate aides said.  Given that the House is now in recess, nothing can happen until they return in September.

Original post: An illegal robocaller pitching health insurance got handed a proposed $81 million fine for faking caller ID numbers to hide who was really behind more than 21 million automated sales calls, federal officials said Thursday.

That comes on the heels of a record $120 million fine for a South Florida robocaller  hawking travel deals announced in June.

The target of Thursday’s action, Philip Roesel and his company, Best Insurance Contracts Inc. doing business as Wilmington Insurance Quotes, acted with evident “gall,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.

Pai said, “The record shows that he instructed his employees which consumers to pick on: ‘the dumber and more broke the better.’  He was even quoted as repeatedly bragging and ‘joking’ to co-workers that his actions were minor legal violations, akin to driving above the speed limit. But today, the whole operation hits a big speed bump.”

WHY COMPLAIN ABOUT ROBOCALLS? NEW CRACKDOWN IS WHY

Roesel did not immediately return a call to what a company website says is his cell phone number.

His North Carolina-based firm targeted “elderly, infirm and low-income families,” U.S. officials said.  A company website refers to generating leads for Medicare supplement coverage and other products, many aimed at seniors.

Robocallers have often found Florida an attractive target, with the nation’s highest share of residents over 65, many on fixed income.

ILLEGAL ROBOCALLS TRACED TO SOUTH FLORIDA DRAW RECORD FINE

The law prohibits “spoofing,” or deliberately falsifying caller ID information, to disguise a caller’s identity with the intent to harm, defraud consumers, or wrongfully obtain anything of value, according to the FCC.

Roesel’s company made more than 200,000 robocalls a day and 21.5 million in all, agency officials said. They subpoenaed call records from last October to January.

Spoofed calls can make it appear a call is coming from a local number or an ordinary person, not a telemarketing company using a fixed number that consumers may wish to block or avoid. In other cases, scammers have even faked caller IDs that seem to be from the IRS, Microsoft or the local sheriff’s office.

“Consumers rely on caller ID information to make decisions about what calls to accept, ignore, or block,” an FCC statement said. “Accurate caller ID information is a vital tool that consumers use to protect their privacy, avoid fraud, and ensure peace of mind.”

 

 

Robocalls: Why complain? New crackdown is why, FTC says

If you are sick of unwanted automated calls, there’s a new reason announced Tuesday to add your voice to the No. 1 gripe to the Federal Trade Commission with more than 1.9 million complaints in 2017.

You’re not just piling on by letting them know robocalls are driving you nuts. You’re giving regulators the specific number and subject of the call to help the industry better block these calls before they ever get to your phone.

Agency officials said when consumers report Do Not Call or robocall violations, the numbers provided will be released each day to telecommunications carriers and their partners carrying out efforts to block the calls.

“Sharing the critical information from consumers’ unwanted call complaints to enable industry innovators to stop illegal robocalls is exactly the type of public-private partnership the FTC champions,” said Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen.

The FTC will make available updated reports of what’s stirring up complaints, including the subject matter like debt reduction, energy, warranties, home security and so on.

It won’t solve every problem because telemarketers can change numbers and use “spoofed” or falsified ones, but federal officials said it will help make life more difficult for telemarketers not following the law.

Telemarketers are not supposed to call numbers on the Do Not Call registry or make automated sales calls without written permission. Some companies blatantly ignore these restrictions and such calls often promote scams, officials said.

Certain robocalls are allowed, such as the school district announcing classes are canceled or candidates running for office.

Report complaints here: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

 

FCC: Illegal robocalls traced to South Florida draw biggest fine ever

A federal agency has proposed its largest fine ever, $120 million, for illegal robocalls that “spoofed” or falsely identified the caller.

An investigation led them to a man in South Florida they say is responsible for a stunning 97 million such automated calls in the last quarter of 2016 alone.

The Federal Communications Commission said in a written order Thursday that Adrian Abramovich of Miami “is the perpetrator of one of the largest — and most dangerous — illegal robocalling campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated, making nearly 100 million robocalls in just a three-month period.”

The calls disrupted emergency lines, at one point tying up a medical paging company, and misled consumers to think they were getting deals from companies like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Marriott and Hilton, officials said. Instead, consumers pressing 1 were directed to a discount-travel call center not affiliated with the brand-name firms, according to the agency.

Federal officials say making prerecorded telemarketing phone calls to people without prior consent is prohibited, and so is making them to emergency lines and deliberately falsifying caller ID to disguise identity with the intent to harm or defraud consumers.

An attempt to reach Abramovich for comment was not successful. He has 30 days to respond to the FCC’s proposed action.

He has formed more than a dozen companies in Florida including Marketing Strategy Leaders on Bayshore Drive in Miami, records show. Many were dissolved within a year.

Documents say his “mass robocalling campaigns violate the Communications Act, and his misrepresentations in the prerecorded messages constitute criminal wire fraud.”

 

 

Robocalls, spoofing: Once nuisance, now ‘plague,’ industry group says

What was once a nuisance has become a plague, a phone industry group admits about automated calls and deceptive identifying numbers like those examined by The Palm Beach Post.

Robocalls  and other kinds of annoying telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints to federal regulators. Estimates say robocalls are coming in at a stunning 2.4 billion per month in 2016, a Robocall Strike Force report says.

robot-handThe strike force, which includes representatives from more than 30 communications companies from AT&T to Verizon, represents one of several efforts to take “decisive and coordinated action to abate robocall proliferation,” said Susan Miller, president of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions.

One initiative: Find better ways to combat “spoofing,” which makes it appear calls come from a number different from the one the caller is actually using.

Consumer groups have been pushing companies to do something. As this blog reported, last year Consumers Union launched its End Robocalls campaign calling on the phone companies to take action.