The Federal Communications Commission have identified the perpetrator behind one of the largest illegal robocalling campaigns they have ever investigated. Telemarketers are prohibited from making prerecorded phone calls to people without prior consent. In response to the campaign, the FCC has proposed a $120 million fine for the Miami resident responsible for almost 97 million robocalls over the last three months of 2016.
The man in question, Adrian Abramovich, is credited with auto-dialing hundreds of millions of calls to both cellphones and landlines in the U.S. and Canada, having at one point overwhelmed an emergency medical paging service. Abramovich would make robocalls on behalf of his ambiguously named companies such as “Marketing Strategy Leaders” or just “Marketing Leaders.” The calls would be spoofed, showing up as numbers with the same area code and the same first three digits of the recipient’s number. This has a psychological effect on callers, As the localized numbers suggest a direct relation instead of an automated call, encouraging callers to answer their phones.
Should recipients answer the robocalls, they would receive an automated message offering exclusive vacation deals on behalf of legitimate travel companies including Hilton, Marriott and TripAdvisor with instructions to “Press 1” to learn more. Complying leads the recipient onto a line with a call center offering discounted vacation packages as well as time shares that are unaffiliated with the aforementioned brands. Using known companies helps sell the legitimacy that affords telemarketers the opportunity to then offer their own product or service. These companies unknowingly act as a foot in the door without even being involved.
According to FCC documents, TripAdvisor investigated the robocalls that were stated to have been selling deals on behalf of the company, finding call centers that were revealed to be in Mexico. TripAdvisor acted preemptively in order to ensure their reputation did not suffer major damage because even though they were not involved in the Robocalling campaign, their name was being used and therefore explicitly connected to the fraud. Therefore, the investigation was in their best interest and has resulted in their image no longer being tainted considering the repercussions Abramovich will be facing.
It is illegal to deliberately falsify caller ID with the intent to harm or defraud consumers, but considering the damage even unintentional falsification of caller ID in regards to emergency services would result in heavy repercussions. Abramovich now faces a proposed penalty that is likely to be a record for the FCC. The FCC have stated that the fine is for Abramovich’s unlawful caller ID spoofing, and Abramovich has also received a citation from the agency’s Enforcement Bureau, considering that his mass Robocalling campaign violates the Communications Act. Abramovich’s misrepresentations as an agent on behalf of travel companies in the prerecorded messages also constitute criminal wire fraud.
Misrepresentation in a prerecorded message that plays on psychological effects en masse proves a dangerous service that targets people who are vulnerable or do not know better. Due to the suggested authoritative nature that an agent acting on behalf of a company has, as well as the frequent and large callings casts a strong and large net that will more than likely result in sales. By playing on the vulnerable through psychological means, telemarketers can have consumers not only buying products or services they do not need but also at a rate that is beyond what they would be willing to spend. While the responsibility lies with the telemarketer, the burden falls on the consumers. Therefore, it is vital that consumers take care when engaging in any form of transaction over the phone, especially should the services rendered become unaffiliated with the initial company that drew you in the first place.
Abramovich now has 30 days to respond to the FCC, which is expected to finalize the investigation and penalties in the following months.
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