The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a $120 million fine against an individual who used "neighbor spoofing" to make more than 96 million robocalls over a three-month period.
Adrian Abramovich ran afoul of the Truth in Caller ID Act, the federal wire fraud statute, and the TCPA, the FCC said in its Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL), when the companies under his control imitated the area code of call recipients to trick them into answering the phone, thinking it was a local call.
Those who answered heard automated messages from callers that falsely claimed to be affiliated with well-known travel and hospitality companies (such as Marriott and TripAdvisor), offering vacations and cruises to destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean. But Abramovich had no relationship with the companies referenced in the messages, the FCC said, and when callers were routed to live operators, they were sold vacation packages and time shares.
After being tipped off by TripAdvisor about the calls, the FCC launched an investigation, subpoenaing call records for a three-month period from Oct. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2016. During that time, Abramovich's business made 96,758,223 calls, averaging over a million calls per day. The Bureau sampled 1,000 calls from the records for each day of the time period (for a total sample of 80,000 calls) and found that every reviewed call was spoofed in order to match the area code and central office code of the called number.
Based on this evidence—what the agency said was one of the largest spoofed robocall campaigns it has ever investigated—the FCC issued its first forfeiture under the Truth in Caller ID Act based on spoofing.
To calculate an appropriate dollar amount for the proposed forfeiture, the FCC weighed a case of first impression with the egregiousness of the harm to serve as both a punishment and a deterrent to future wrongdoing, proposing a base forfeiture in the amount of $1,000 per unlawful spoofed call for each of the 80,000 calls the FCC specifically examined.
Given the sheer volume of the calls made and the direct harms to consumers, the FCC said the case merited "a significant upward adjustment," adding another $40 million, for a total forfeiture of $120 million. Abramovich is directly liable for the amount, the FCC said, as he had dissolved his company before the violations cited by the agency occurred and was no longer entitled to the protections of the corporate form.
To read the NAL, click here.
Why it matters: "The FCC is an active cop on the beat for consumers, and a cop that means business when it comes to their top concern: the scourge of robocalls," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement about the action. "We aim to put unlawful robocallers out of business and to deter anyone else from hatching a business plan that plunders American consumers' pocketbooks." Now that it has issued its first forfeiture under the Truth in Caller ID Act, the FCC noted that future spoofing cases could involve higher penalties "in light of their particular facts and circumstances."
For further information on this topic please contact Christine Reilly at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP by telephone (+1 310 312 4000) or email ([email protected]). The Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP website can be accessed at www.manatt.com.
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