FTC crackdown stops billions of illegal robocalls


FTC crackdown stops billions of illegal robocalls

FTC chips away at robocallers

Four operations, including one that controls software blamed for billions of robocalls, have agreed to permanently end their operations, the Federal Trade Commission said.

Ron Hurtibise March 27, 2019

Stopping more than a billion robocalls won’t make much difference in the amount of harassment we endure, one analyst says.

This week, four operations responsible for a slew of illegal robocalls have agreed to permanently stop the harassing activities, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Robocalls remain a large and growing problem in the U.S., as sophisticated operations have learned to target mobile phones with spoofed caller IDs.

Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups have been calling for several years for telephone companies to develop firewalls preventing junk calls from reaching their customers, but “they’re not working fast enough,” said a policy analyst.

The four operations, including one based in South Florida, are defendants in civil lawsuits by the FTC aimed at seizing their assets and stopping them from making fraudulent calls. Each faced charges they violated the FTC Act and the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including its Do Not Call provisions.

Under court orders announced Tuesday that have been finalized or are expected to be finalized in coming days, the four companies are barred from robocalling and most telemarketing activities, including use of automatic dialer programs, and will pay financial judgments.

One of the companies provided the software that the FTC is blaming for making more than a billion illegal robocalls.

How to protect yourself against robocalls

Like a game of whack-a-mole, the benefits of enforcement efforts tend to be short-lived, said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at Consumer Reports.

“The incentives for engaging in illegal robocalling is so strong,” she said. “Once you shut down one operation, others just pop back up their place.”

There have been some signs of progress.

Last week, phone service providers AT&T and Comcast announced successful completion of a test of a new Caller ID authentication system using digital certificates to verify that an incoming call’s display ID isn’t being spoofed.

The two companies said they planned to make the services available to their customers later in the year.

They might not have to block robocalls from companies in the most recent crackdown, if they abide by terms of their agreements with the FTC.

Boca Raton-based Pointbreak Media was shut down in May 2018 amid allegations the company falsely claimed to represent Google and threatened businesses with removal from Google search results unless they paid a one-time fee ranging from $300 to $700, the FTC said.

Defendants affiliated with Pointbreak that agreed to settle with the FTC include Michael Pocker and companies Modern Spotlight LLC, Modern Spotlight Group LLC, Modern Internet Marketing LLC; Steffan Molina and companies Perfect Image Online LLC and Pinnacle Presence LLC; and Ricardo Diaz.

The Pocker settlement orders him and his companies to pay more than $5.5 million in fines to the FTC, but those will be suspended after Pocker pays more than $18,000. Likewise, the Molina settlement orders him and his companies to pay more than $5 million in fines, but those fines will be suspended upon payment of about $103,000.

Diaz was hit with a $1.81 million judgment, which will be “partially suspended” upon payment of $690,817, the FTC said.

The three other companies that agreed to permanently end robocalling activities are:

-- NetDotSolutions and numerous affiliated companies that operated “TelWeb,” a computer-based telephone dialing platform that can be used to blast out a large number of robocalls in a short time. Billions of robocalls were made using TelWeb, including calls to numbers on the National Do Not Call registry and calls with fake, or spoofed, caller IDs, the FTC said.

-- Higher Goals Marketing, based in Orlando, pitched fake debt-relief services, promising to substantially and permanently lower consumers’ credit card interest rates and save them thousands of dollars in interest payments, the FTC said.

-- Veterans of America was shut down as part of an enforcement effort dubbed “Operation Donate with Honor,” a crackdown on fraudulent charities that gain consumers’ trust by promising that donations will help veterans and servicemembers, the FTC said. This scheme also used the names Saving Our Soldiers, Donate Your Car, Donate That Car LLC, Act of Valor and Medal of Honor.

None of the names is a real charity, the FTC said. The operation’s ringleader, Travis Deloy Paterson, faces a $541,032 monetary judgment which will be suspended after he provides significant assets, including eight vehicles, to the FTC.

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