The Federal Communications Commission has approved its largest fine ever, $120 million, against a Miami, Fla., man who was found to have instigated 96.8 million fraudulent robocalls for vacation deals.
The FCC initially levied the fine againstAdrian Abramovich, doing business as Marketing Strategy Leaders, in June 2017 alleging his business used “neighborhood spoofing” technology to include local area codes and the first three numbers of the recipient’s own phone number to encourage people to answer robocalls.
The calls professed to offer vacation deals from major travel companies such as Expedia, Hilton, Marriott and TripAdvisor, but consumers would be transferred to foreign call centers and sold travel packages at unrelated destinations, includingtimeshares in Mexico.TripAdvisor, which doesn’t do telemarketing,helped the FCC in the investigation as it had many complaints about the robocalls.
During a Senate Commerce hearing last month, Abramovich denied being “the kingpin of robocalling thatis alleged.”
Abramovich did not deny making the calls, but has said he did not intend to “to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday.
But if so, why did he include fraudulent caller ID information with each and every one of his 96 million robocalls?” Pai said. “And why did the recorded messages indicate that the calls came from well-known travel or hospitality companies …even though they were attempting to sell vacation packages at destinations unrelated to those named companies?
The robocall operation not only defrauded customers by selling misrepresented travel packages, but also disrupted Spk, a Virginia-based medical paging service with robocalls, Pai said. “Our decision sends a loud and clear message: this FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers,” he said.
Most of the robocalls, about 90%, were made to wireless phones, and 10% to landline phones.
Beyond levying fines against individual robocallers, the FCC needs to take a holistic approach to combat the practice, says FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. That’s because robocalls are increasing, with 3.4 billion robocalls made nationwide in April, more than 30% above last year.
The agency needs to update rules and adopt better technology to combat robocalls, she said, because “Weare drowning in them.”
More: 98 million robocalls hit Americans every day. The FCC’s fines aren’t stopping them.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.