The FCC fined a New York man for using false caller ID numbers—a practice commonly known as “spoofing”—to place harassing phone calls to his friend’s ex-wife.
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 from knowingly causing, 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.
As we reported in FCC Enforcement Monitor last summer, the National Network to End Domestic Violence contacted the FCC on behalf of one of its 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 caller 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 caller used a voice modulation feature of the spoofing service to disguise his voice, 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 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 the fine upward or downward depending on the circumstances of the violation. Citing the “egregious” nature of the violations, the FCC proposed to fine the ex-husband and the friend $25,000 each.
The friend filed an opposition to the proposed fine, asserting that he did not intend to harm the woman, had no profit motive, and was unaware of the Truth in Caller ID Act. In upholding the $25,000 fine, the FCC determined that harm includes not only physical or financial harm, but also emotional harm, as is caused by stalking and harassment, and that ignorance of the law is not a defense.