Spoofing's No Joke: Two Men Face $25,000 Fine Each for Harassing Phone Call Scheme

The FCC proposed to fine two New York men for apparently using false caller ID numbers – a practice commonly known as “spoofing” – to place harassing phone calls to the ex-wife of one of the men.

The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, as codified in Section 227(e) of the Communications Act and Section 64.1604 of the FCC’s Rules, prohibits any person, in connection with any telecommunications service or IP-enabled voice service, to knowingly cause, directly or indirectly, any caller ID service to transmit or display misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

In September 2015, the National Network to End Domestic Violence contacted the FCC on behalf of one of their clients and explained that someone was using spoofing services to stalk and harass her. The FCC subsequently opened an investigation into the matter.

Using information and call logs provided by the woman, the investigation found that between May 2015 and September 2015, 31 harassing phone calls were made. It found that the callers used a spoofing service provider to make the woman believe she was answering calls from sources such as local jails and prisons, the school district where her child attends school, and her parents’ home. In addition, it found that the callers used a voice modulation feature of the spoofing service to disguise their voices, and conveyed threatening and bizarre messages. For example, calls that spoofed the caller ID information of Sing Sing correctional facility threatened “we are waiting for you.” Other calls referenced personal information specific to the woman and her minor child.

FCC staff subpoenaed call records for the cell phone of a friend of the woman’s ex-husband after the woman told staff that she believed her ex-husband – against whom she had a restraining order during the time period in question – and his close friend were behind the calls. The woman explained to FCC staff that for some of the calls she had used a third-party “unmasking” service to reveal that the true caller ID was that of her ex-husband’s friend, with whom she had no independent relationship. The call records showed that each time the friend called the spoofing service, the woman received a spoofed call. The parent company of the spoofing service confirmed that the friend used its service to make spoofed calls to the woman.

The FCC also found that the ex-husband was directly involved in at least some of the calls. For example, the FCC found that the friend made a spoofed call moments after he was called by the ex-husband, and while he was still on the phone with the ex-husband. The FCC explained that the fact that the ex-husband “did not dial the spoofed calls himself does not absolve him of liability for the harassment and stalking of his ex-wife.”

The Communications Act and the FCC’s Rules authorize a fine of up to $10,000 for each spoofing violation, or three times that amount for each day of a continuing violation, up to a statutory maximum of $1,025,000. The FCC may adjust a fine upward or downward depending on the circumstances of the violation. Citing the “egregious” nature of the violation, the FCC proposed to fine the ex-husband and the friend $25,000 each. The friend was also arrested and charged with stalking and aggravated harassment after the woman filed a complaint with local police.

Haters Gonna Hate: Amateur Radio Licensee Fined $25,000 for Racial Slur-Filled Interference

A California amateur radio licensee received a $25,000 fine from the FCC for intentionally interfering with the transmissions of other amateurs radio operators and transmitting prohibited communications, including music.

Section 333 of the Communications Act states that “[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any stations licensed or authorized by or under the Act or operated by the United States Government.” Similarly, Section 97.101(d) of the FCC’s Rules states that “[n]o amateur operator shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communication or signal.” In addition, Section 97.113(a)(4) of the Rules states that “[n]o amateur station shall transmit . . . [m]usic using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section.”

After receiving multiple complaints of interference, primarily from the Western Amateur Radio Friendship Association (“WARFA”), FCC field agents, with assistance from the FCC’s High Frequency Direction Finding (“HFDF”) Center, conducted investigations to find the source of the interference. On August 25 and 27, 2015, between 7:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., the agents observed at least 12 instances of the licensee intentionally transmitting on top of, and interrupting, WARFA amateurs. The interruptions lasted from 30 seconds to at least 4 minutes, and included noises, recordings, music, and talking over WARFA users. The transmissions included racial, ethnic, and sexual slurs. The licensee ended his transmissions each night when WARFA members ended their transmissions.

On August 28, 2015, FCC agents conducted an inspection of the licensee’s station, and warned him that his transmissions violated the Communications Act and the Commission’s rules. Later that day, the licensee sent an email to the FCC’s San Francisco Office District Director, stating that the transmissions were not violations and that he would continue them. That night, the HFDF Center observed that the licensee was again transmitting on top of, and interrupting, WARFA users.