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‘Robocallers are like a plague of locusts’: Ohio AG joins FTC in sweep to stop illegal scam calls

July 18, 2023 – A major government crackdown is taking aim at illegal telemarking calls, as well as the third-party companies who illegally sell consumers’ phone numbers to robocallers.

The Federal Trade Commission has teamed up with more than 100 federal and state law enforcement partners nationwide, including the Attorneys General from all 50 states, in a joint effort to stop the biggest offenders when it comes to robocalls and predatory practices.

In addition to going after illegal telemarketers and the companies who hire them, the enforcement sweep, called Operation Stop Scam Calls, also targets lead generators who “deceptively collect and provide consumers’ telephone numbers to robocallers and others, falsely representing that these consumers have consented to receive calls.”

On Tuesday, the FTC announced five new cases that are part of Operation Stop Scam Calls:

  • Fluent LLC was issued a $2.5 million civil penalty for selling more than 620 million telemarking leads. According to the FTC, the company and its affiliates lured customers to its websites “using deceptive ads that falsely promise employment opportunities or free valuable items, such as a job interview with UPS or a $1,000 Walmart gift card” and then tricked consumers into providing their personal information which was then sold to robocallers.
  • Viceroy Media Solutions LLD was issued a $913,000 penalty. The FTC said the company tricked consumers who visited quick-jobs.com and localjobindex.com into providing their contact information in exchange for receiving local job listings. The information was then sold to telemarketers who used it to robocall consumers.
  • Yodel Technologies LLC was issued a $1 million civil penalty for making 500 million calls to people whose numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry. According to the FTC, the company initiated more than 1.4 billion calls to U.S. consumers between January 2018 and May 2021.
  • Solar Xchange LLC was issued a $13.8 million civil penalty for making “tens of millions of calls to consumers whose numbers are listed on the DNC Registry—thousands of whom reported receiving dozens of calls.”
  • Hello Hello Miami LLC faces civil penalties for facilitating more than 38 million robocalls made by foreign robocallers, according to the FTC. The agency said foreign telemarketers used Hello Hello Miami’s services to “bombard consumers with tens of millions of illegal calls using pre-recorded messages impersonating Amazon.com.”

“This is for everybody who is tired of having your phone number sold to people you don’t know and without your permission,” Ohio Attorney Dave Yost said Tuesday at news conference in Chicago announcing the multi-agency enforcement sweep. “Your phone should be a convenience, not a curse. A tool, not a tribulation. And yet we have more than 30 million illegal robocalls in America every day. About 30 billion dollars are ripped off by these scammers each year.”

Fil de Banate, an attorney with the FTC’s Cleveland office, said these kinds of operations let the offenders know the agency is putting lots of resources into stopping the so-called “gatekeepers.”

“We know that you’re allowing the bad traffic the illegal robocalls into the country, and you need to stop,” de Banate said. “We are disrupting the flow of illegal robocalls into the country, and we are notifying these providers that we are looking seriously in this space.”

The FTC has brought a total of 167 cases against illegal robocallers and ‘Do Not Call’ list violators, including many lead generators and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers. Defendants have been ordered to pay more than $2 billion dollars, and the FTC has collected more than $394 million, much of which has been used to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.

In addition to the five new FTC actions announced Tuesday, the agency said 48 federal and 54 state agencies have brought more than 180 actions enforcement actions and other initiatives as part of the Operation Stop Scam Calls.

Ohio’s attorney general has filed multiple lawsuits against both businesses and individuals accused in car warranty and heath care robocall schemes. He also formed the Robocall Enforcement Unit was to investigate violators.

“Robocallers are like a plague of locusts using modern day technology to swarm through the international telecommunications landscape; deceiving, scamming, defrauding thousands of our constituents every single day,” Yost said Tuesday. “They strike like locusts in overwhelming numbers, cross borders and jurisdictions with impunity. They pillage and they consume everything they can and then vanish into the digital frontier. This invasion is too big for any single jurisdiction.”

Yost later tweeted that he received a robocall on her personal cell phone as he was walking out of Tuesday’s news conference.

“They just don’t get it – but they’re going to,” he wrote.

Ohioans are encouraged to report illegal robocalls. You can click here to report unwanted calls or call the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-282-0515.

By Jen Picciano, WOIO
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