Health Insurance Telemarketer Faces $82 Million Fine For Illegal Robocalls

Image courtesy of Jason Cook

A health insurance marketing company that allegedly placed more than 21 million illegal automated phone calls, interrupting the enjoyment of Modern Family reruns for Americans everywhere, now faces fines in excess of $82 million for violations of the Truth In Caller ID Act.

At the core of today’s FCC action is the practice known as “spoofing,” which is when you disguise your outgoing number so that the recipient of a call does not see your real number or other information. There are several legal, justified reasons for spoofing, like making anonymous tips to law enforcement or the media, or hiding the actual location of someone hiding from a stalker or abuser.

But the Truth In Caller ID Act prohibits anyone from spoofing caller ID information “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

According to the FCC, a North Carolina man named Philip Roesel — the owner of a company called Best Insurance Contracts, doing business as Wilmington Insurance Quotes — is believed to have made millions of automated “robocalls” for the purpose of selling health insurance, and that he falsified his called ID information to hide the real source of the calls.

Like a recent FCC action against a robocaller accused of impersonating TripAdvisor and other legitimate businesses, Roesel’s alleged deluge of unwanted, automated calls caused interference with an emergency medical alert network.

Spōk, a company that provides medical paging services, alerted the FCC in Dec. 2016, that its network was being disrupted by robocalls. Pager systems are generally not equipped to handle voice calls, so when a robocaller’s machine starts blasting out calls to random pager numbers, it can cause interruptions in this vital service.

The FCC says that the information provided by Spōk helped lead investigators to Roesel, and that they were ultimately able to verify that he’d made 82,106 insurance-related robocalls using false caller ID information. The Commission is now proposing that Roesel be fined $82.106 million — that comes out to $1,000 per verified incident.

But those 82,106 calls account for less than 1% of the 21.5 million calls that the FCC believes Roesel was responsible for. According to FCC Chair Ajit Pai, this operation was making around 200,000 automated calls each day over a three-month period.

“Perhaps worse is the gall [Roesel] evidently paired with his gumption,” said Pai at this morning’s monthly open meeting of the FCC commissioners. “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.”

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