FCC Imposes $82M Fine for Spoofed Pernicious Robocalls

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The Federal Communications Commission in the US has proposed a whopping $82 million fine against an individual who apparently made more than 21 million illegally spoofed robocalls.

The FCC found that Philip Roesel, proprietor of Wilmington Insurance Quotes, displayed inaccurate caller ID information when making robocalls nationwide, in hopes of getting people to pick up the phone—many consumers ignore obvious telemarketing calls. Roesel, who is in the business of selling health insurance, especially targeted vulnerable consumers, including the elderly, the infirm and low-income families, according to the FCC.

The record shows that he instructed his employees which consumers to pick on: The FCC quotes him as saying, “The dumber and more broke the better.”  He was also quoted as repeatedly bragging and joking to co-workers that his actions were minor legal violations, akin to driving above the speed limit.

Roesel’s bus hit a roadblock when, in December 2016, a medical paging provider complained to FCC staff that robocalling campaigns were disrupting its network. Using the information provided to connect these calls to Roesel, the FCC found that over a three-month period from late 2016 through early 2017, Mr. Roesel was responsible for more than 200,000 robocalls a day—21.5 million altogether. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau examined a section of call records and verified that 82,106 spoofed health insurance telemarketing calls were made in that time period; each call was a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act, which prohibits marketers from deliberately falsifying caller ID information to disguise their identity. The FCC is fining Roesel $1,000 per verified violation.

“In one scene of the 1973 classic, The Sting, villain Doyle Lonnegan gets fleeced at poker by Paul Newman’s character, Henry Gondorff,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a media statement. “The villain then asks Newman’s sidekick, Johnny Hooker, played by Robert Redford, what the secret is.  Johnny simply replies: ‘He cheats.’ And so it seems to be with the subjects of today’s [fine].”

He added, “Like many for whom illegal robocalls are a business model, he sought to hide his tracks: He knowingly used unassigned phone numbers to display inaccurate caller ID information so that he could avoid detection and evade law enforcement. Bad stuff, as far as it goes. Perhaps worse is the gall he evidently paired with his gumption.”

In recent months, the US telecoms regulator has taken a number of significant enforcement actions related to spoofing and robocalling, including a $120 million fine against an individual who apparently used “neighbor spoofing” while making nearly 100 million robocalls to sell timeshares.  It also fined a New Mexico company $2.8 million for providing a robocalling platform which also allowed easy caller ID manipulation.

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