I’ve written earlier columns about the FTC’s efforts to reduce the number of illegal robocalls. The Federal Communications Commission and state Attorneys General are equally aggressive in combating them.
In February, the FCC proposed a $45 million fine against a Florida company called Interstate Brokers of America that allegedly made over 514,000 illegal robocalls to generate leads for health insurance companies. It’s the largest fine ever assessed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, although it won’t be imposed until the company has a chance to provide evidence and legal arguments rebutting the FCC’s charges.
The company purchased lists of phone numbers from third-party vendors and also acquired numbers from consumers who researched health insurance online but didn’t consent to receive robocalls peddling it. One complainant said, “Message left from ‘Ashley’ from the Health care center calling to announce open enrollment for health care due to COVID-19. …Called on my work cell phone that I do no personal business on.”
Such calls are illegal unless the consumer has given prior written consent to receive them. Many of the calls were also made to consumers on the Do Not Call Registry.
The FCC and Ohio Attorney General have joined forces to shut down a massive illegal operation that placed as many as 77 million calls a day – more than 8 billion total since 2018 – selling auto warranties. In suing 22 defendants, some of whom have been the targets of previous FTC enforcement actions, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said, “Our lives are plagued by robocalls like a swarm of flies. It’s time to get out my fly swatter.” He accuses the defendants of:
- Making unlawful robocalls without consent.
- Failing to disclose the callers’ identities.
- Placing calls to numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry.
- Failing to honor Do Not Call requests.
- Failing to transmit accurate Caller ID information.
- Making misleading representations in the initial robocalls.
The FCC sent cease and desist letters to eight companies it believes originated the traffic in this particular auto warranty robocall scam. After the companies didn’t respond to the letters, the FCC ordered all phone companies to stop carrying traffic they originated. The FCC’s press release notes that it received more complaints about auto warranty scam robocalls than any other category in each of the past two years.
In August, Attorneys General from all 50 states announced the formation of a nationwide Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force to investigate and take legal action against the telecommunications companies responsible for bringing the majority of robocalls into the United States. They’ve already issued civil investigative demands to 20 gateway providers and other entities that bring foreign traffic into the US telephone network.
The Attorneys General offers these tips to determine if calls and texts may be scams:
- Be wary of callers who specifically ask you to pay by gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency.
- Look out for prerecorded calls from imposters posing as government agencies.
- If you suspect fraudulent activity, immediately hang up and don’t provide any personal information.
- If you feel pressured or scared, that’s a sign to hang up. Scammers like to use pressure and fear tactics to get you to make a quick decision without thinking.
Randy Hutchinson is President & CEO Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South. This column is in partnership with Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee & Southern Kentucky.