The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a record-breaking $299,997,000 fine imposed on an international network of companies for placing five billion robocalls to more than 500 million phone numbers over three months in 2021.
The fined companies operated as Sumco Panama, Virtual Telecom, Davis Telecom, Geist Telecom, Fugle Telecom, Tech Direct, Mobi Telecom, and Posting Express.
“The enterprise violated a multitude of robocall prohibitions by making pre-recorded voice calls to mobile phones without prior express consent, placing telemarketing calls without written consent, dialing numbers included on the National Do Not Call Registry, failing to identify the caller at the start of the message, and failing to provide a call-back number that allowed consumers to opt out of future calls,” explained the FCC press release.
The telemarketing calls were performed using caller ID spoofing tools to mask their actual origin, which also constitutes a violation of U.S. laws.
The calls started in 2018, and according to the FCC investigation, the operation involved a complex scheme that promoted the sale of false or misleading vehicle service contracts (auto warranties). The calls were so pervasive that the “we’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty” pitch became an online meme.
The FCC says two individuals named Roy M. Cox and Aaron Michael Jones are key figures behind this operation, both previously banned from telemarketing activities following lawsuits by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of Texas.
Despite the lifetime ban on the two individuals, the FXX says the duo continued unabated; hence the FCC has taken a more aggressive measure to stop the operation by instructing U.S.-based voice service providers to block their calls and then fining the scammers $300 million.
“Last year, to stop this then-ongoing telemarketing campaign in its tracks, the FCC directed all U.S.-based voice service providers to cease carrying traffic associated with certain members of the enterprise,” reads FCC’s public announcement.
This enforcement action resulted in the auto warranty robocalls executed by the violating companies dropping by 99%, so the problem was largely resolved, at least from a practical perspective.
In a second phase, the FCC took care of the punitive aspect of the case after allowing the implicated companies to respond to its inquiries, which went unanswered.
Should the sanctioned entities fail to fulfill their payment obligations promptly, the U.S. Department of Justice will step in to guarantee that the levied fines are collected.