In the span of a single day, officials at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined one notorious robocaller a total of $82 million and announced a proposed fine of $37.5 million against another alleged spammer.
Philip Roesel Placed 21M Robocalls, FCC Claims
On Wednesday, September 26, 2018, the FCC announced that it was imposing an $82 million fine against Philip Roesel, who runs Wilmington Insurance Quotes and Best Insurance Contracts, Inc.
FCC representatives say Roesel placed over 21 million illegally-spoofed robocalls to market health insurance and generate sales leads.
“Malicious” Caller ID Spoofing
Caller ID spoofing has become more and more popular in recent years, as consumers learn to ignore phone numbers that they don’t recognize. In spoofing their phone numbers, robocallers disguise their actual caller ID information by replacing it with someone else’s number or, alternatively, numbers that have not been assigned to a valid phone.
When committed with the intend to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value, caller ID spoofing is prohibited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, a federal law that drastically restricts the abilities of telemarketers to place robocalls.
“By spoofing his caller ID information,” the FCC wrote in a statement, “Mr. Roesel made it difficult for consumers to register complaints and for law enforcement entities to track and stop the illegal calls.”
Roesel Admits To Extensive Robocalling Scheme
Mr. Roesel denies the claims, but as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai notes in a personal statement, the man’s denials are “not persuasive.”
“He admits that he hired a dialing platform,” Chairman Pai writes. “He admits that he intentionally spoofed the caller ID. He admits that he robocalled consumers. And he does not deny that he failed to obtain prior consent from any consumers that he robocalled. Nor does he deny he obtained value using his robocalling campaign or that he caused harm.”
Proposed $37.5M Fine For Affordable Enterprises
FCC officials say Affordable Enterprises of Arizona, a remodeling company based in Tucson, should be on the hook for $37.5 million in penalties, stemming from the company’s apparent reliance on spoofed telemarketing calls.
Representatives for the FCC say Affordable Enterprises made over 2.3 million “maliciously-spoofed” telemarketing calls over the course of 14 months beginning in 2016, spamming Arizonians with unwanted robocalls.
Company Posed As Unsuspecting Consumers
The company was attempting to sell home improvement and remodeling services, but “apparently manipulated the caller ID information so that many calls appeared to come from consumers who were unconnected to the operation.” Some calls also appeared to come from unassigned phone numbers and numbers assigned to pre-paid “burner” phones.
Caller ID spoofing of this sort is particularly troubling because many call recipients choose to call the number back to complain. One woman told the FCC that she received over five calls every day from angry consumers calling to complain about the telemarketing calls. The consumers believed that she had been placing the robocalls, because Affordable Enterprises reportedly used her phone number.
In a separate statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that the unsuspecting consumer’s phone number had been used to place over 48,300 telemarketing calls. “Such calling tactics,” the FCC writes, “harm both the consumers receiving the deceptive calls and those whose numbers are essentially commandeered by the telemarketer.”
Affordable Enterprises Head Denies FCC Claims
FCC officials say their investigation into Affordable Enterprises, which also went by the names Affordable Kitchens and Affordable Windows, began after they received a tip from a former employer. The company allegedly contracted with a second company, JB Comm, to use their telemarketing platform to place the robocalls.
When contacted by a reporter from the Daily Republic, Affordable Enterprises co-owner Jessika Cabrera expressed surprise at the proposed FCC fine. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “I don’t see how this is even possible.” Cabrera then pointed an accusatory finger at JB Comm, saying “they’re the ones you should be looking at.”
Telemarketers Point Fingers
JB Comm’s co-owner, Bruce Manning, however, has a different take on things. In response to questioning, Manning accused Cabrera of lying, telling the Daily Record’s David Lazarus, “She’s telling you a fib. All we did was provide the system for outbound dialing. All the numbers called were from her. This is on them, not me.”
Cabrera says she purchased a list of phone numbers to call from JB Comm. Manning denies Cabrera’s claim, saying the Affordable Enterprises owner purchased the numbers from a third-party broker.
It’s unclear how all of this will play out, as the FCC seems set on holding Affordable Enterprises, Cabrera’s company, liable for the spoofed telemarketing calls.