The Federal Communications Commission has announced its highest fine on record, a $120 million penalty imposed on a Florida man who reportedly placed about 100 million illegal robocalls, according to CNN Money.
FL Man Defrauded Millions In Illegal Robocalls, FCC Says
Adrian Abramovich, a resident of Miami, is “the perpetrator of one of the largest – and most dangerous – illegal robocalling campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated,” FCC officials wrote in a complaint.
Over the course of only three months, the FCC says, Abramovich placed approximately 96 million illegal calls, often “spoofing,” or altering, his caller ID information in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Abramovich’s extensive “telemarketing scheme” purported to offer discounts on trips to Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean, peddling “deals” offered by Expedia, Marriott, Hilton and TripAdvisor.
FCC: Scam Offered Fake Deals “From” Expedia, TripAdvisor, More
In reality, the FCC claims, Abramovich had nothing to do with any of the companies. It was all a scam, the federal agency says, labeling the Miami man’s actions as wire fraud. A spokesperson from TripAdvisor told CNN Money that the company learned that consumers were receiving fake calls in 2015. The FCC got involved shortly thereafter, eventually filing suit against Abramovich in 2017.
According to federal court documents, Abramovich frequently used technology to make the calls appear to be coming from the recipient’s own area code, exploiting a common robocall technique known as spoofing.
He also placed robocalls to “critical emergency phone lines,” the FCC claims, referring to protected numbers used by hospitals and other medical facilities. There’s also evidence that Abramovich may have actively targeted senior citizens, who are more vulnerable to falling for these schemes.
Miami Man Broke Numerous TCPA Rules, Agency Claims
If these allegations are true, almost everything Adrian Abramovich did was illegal. Telemarketers are prohibited from using automated voice messages to contact consumers, unless the recipient has granted the caller their prior express consent in writing.
Telemarketers are also prohibited from altering or concealing their caller ID information; caller ID names and numbers must be truthful and accurate, according to American federal law. And needless to say, impersonating companies for one’s own personal gain is absolutely illegal.
In Senate Testimony, Abramovich Denies Allegations
It also goes without saying that Abramovich denies many of these allegations. Called to testify before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in April 2018, Abramovich told lawmakers, “the extent of my activities has been significantly overstated. I am not the kingpin of robocalling that is alleged.”
It’s notable, however, that Abramovich didn’t directly dispute the illegality of his robocalling techniques; he quibbled over the scale of his scheme and danced around the Senator’s questions by answering specific questions in a “general” context. Then, he took the Fifth, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination at the advice of his counsel.
Abramovich Details “Business Practices”
Abramovich declined to answer any questions “specific to [his] activities,” citing the pending FCC investigation, including a question leveled by South Dakota Senator John Thune about whether he engaged in caller ID spoofing.
He did, however, provide more details on his business. Apparently, Abramovich was selling discount vacations as a way of marketing time-share properties to customers. There’s nothing illegal about that, so long as the terms of the deal are transparent, but defrauding consumers by lying about a connection to TripAdvisor, Expedia, Marriott and Hilton? That’s definitely illegal.
Again, Abramovich denies doing anything wrong. In his Senate testimony, he said, “I never misrepresented any of those hospitality companies. All the resorts are legitimate; all the locations – everything was included. There was no fraudulent activity. The customers knew what packages they were purchasing.”
It’s “Very Easy” To Robocall, Abramovich Testifies
Abramovich also went on to explain how “easy” it is for anyone to place thousands of robocalls on their own, The Hill reports. Numerous open-source software programs, for example, allow callers to send automated voice messages, spoof their caller ID information and automatically dial new numbers at high speed. “All you need is Google,” Abramovich said, to find numerous US-based services that would allow a single person to place over 10,000 robocalls in a single day.
FCC Says “Tough Enforcement” Is Needed On Robocalls
In announcing the historic $120 million fine against Abramovich, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated his dedication to ending the scourge of illegal robocalls. “Tough enforcement is a key part of the FCC’s robust strategy for combating illegal robocalls,” Pai said, “and this Forfeiture Order represents a big step forward in our enforcement efforts.”