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Focus on Regulation

FCC Proposes Historic $120 Million Fine for Illegally “Spoofed” Robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a historic $120 million fine against an individual, Mr. Adrian Abramovich, who reportedly made more than 100 million unlawful “spoofed” robocalls in violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. On June 22, 2017, the Commission approved a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture finding Mr. Abramovich apparently liable for violations of the Act and Commission rules. On the same day, the Enforcement Bureau issued a Citation and Order notifying Mr. Abramovich that he violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by making prerecorded telemarketing calls to emergency phone lines, wireless phones, and residential phones without consent.

The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value, unless such transmission is exempted.” It authorizes the Commission to fine violators up to $10,000 per call.

These practices, also called “Caller ID spoofing,” cause the Caller ID on the recipient’s device to display a phone number different from that of the telephone from which the call was placed. The technology allegedly used by Mr. Abramovich, “neighborhood spoofing,” makes calls look familiar to recipients by using the area code and first three “prefix” digits of the recipient’s own phone number.

According to the FCC, when consumers answered Mr. Abramovich’s calls, a prerecorded message advertised discounted vacation packages from popular travel and hospitality companies such as Marriott, TripAdvisor, and Hilton. After pressing “1,” they were redirected to foreign call centers where sales associates pitched vacation packages from companies with no relation to those advertised. Some callers allegedly spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on low-quality vacation packages that differed significantly from those presented to them. Between October and December 2016, Mr. Abramovich apparently made more than 96,758,223 illegal robocalls, 80,000 of which the Commission stated that it had verified.

The calls also appear to have affected a critical paging system used by hospitals, emergency rooms, and physicians. Spōk, Inc., of Springfield, Virginia, reported that the robocalls calls caused significant disruption to its emergency paging network in December 2016. The Commission noted that because paging systems are not designed to handle voice calls, a large-scale robocalling campaign can cause network outages and pose a serious risk to public safety.

Chairman Pai observed in his statement accompanying the enforcement action that illegal robocalling is consistently the number one complaint from consumers to the Commission. Describing Abramovich’s actions as “the most egregious ‘neighbor spoofing’ robocalling scheme we have ever seen,” the Chairman praised the Enforcement Bureau’s investigation and called for the Commission to continue its role as “the active cop on the beat” in preventing unlawful robocalls.

Commissioner Clyburn similarly praised the Commission’s actions, arguing for steep penalties for those who intentionally violate the Commission’s rules and the public’s trust. Without issuing a statement, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly supported the decision and voiced his desire for more precise language from Enforcement Bureau items generally.

Mr. Abramovich must pay the full amount of the proposed $120 million forfeiture within 30 calendar days or file a statement with the Commission seeking reduction.

How Can We Help?

Our TCPA Working Group brings together more than 25 attorneys in our litigation, communications, commercial, and privacy practice areas.  We provide regular TCPA counseling to clients from a broad range of industries, including technology, healthcare, communications, transportation, and financial services.  We have secured dismissals and nominal settlements for clients in TCPA actions and have worked with the FCC to clarify rules addressing a number of key TCPA issues.  We also have significant experience in TCPA appeals.