Feds Shut Down Two Massive Illegal Robocall Operations

Image courtesy of John Abella

Fighting robocalls might seem as pointless as chasing a greased pig, but occasionally you’re able to get your slick mitts on a slippery swine and hold on, if only for a moment. Today, the Federal Trade Commission managed to nab a pair of particularly large robocalling pigs, who have allegedly been violating the Do Not Call Registry for at least five years.

The first of the two operations goes back to Jan. 2012, if not earlier. Under names like Data Guru, Tailbone Security, and Prime Marketing, the defendants would blast out recorded messages to telephone numbers to sell home security systems.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], the robocalling was so extensive that, during just one week, the defendants placed more than 1.3 million calls. The large majority (80%) of the numbers called were listed on the Do Not Call registry.

Even after these defendants were caught by the Indiana Attorney General’s office in 2014, resulting in a $4.375 million judgment, the FTC says they continued robocalling. According to the FTC, these defendants made 800,000 robocalls in April and May of 2016.

The second FTC lawsuit [PDF] includes a defendant alleged to be making illegal robocalls for nearly a decade.

The FTC says this defendant was involved in billions of robocalls going back to at least March 2009, pushing things like extended auto warranties, home security systems, or doing lead-generation for other telemarketers. Again, most of these alleged illegal calls were made to Do Not Call numbers.

Seven of the defendants in this case have agreed to settlements that include a $9.9 million monetary judgment (though all but $510,000 is suspended, based upon the defendants’ inability to pay).

Under pressure from lawmakers and consumers — like the hundreds of thousands who have joined the End Robocalls campaign run by our colleagues at Consumers Union — the FCC recently convened an industry-led Robocall Strike Force with the goal of developing free call-blocking technology for all phone users.

When the Strike Force last met in late October, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler expressed gratitude at the work that had been accomplished in only 60 days, while also cautioning the industry against trying to pass the cost for these tools on to customers. He also warned them against handing off responsibility for developing these tools to others.

With Wheeler exiting the FCC next week, and new leadership yet to be named, it remains to be seen whether the Strike Force will ever convene again or if it will follow through on the tasks its members committed to only five months ago.