Tired of Robocalls? So is the FTC

FTC v RobocallsThe FTC has been especially busy lately in its attempts to put an end to abusive and annoying robocalls. In January, the FTC announced that it had sent 16,590 refund checks totaling more than $700k to consumers who lost money to a “Rachel from Cardholder Services” robocall scheme, which promised to reduce the consumers’ credit card interest rates in exchange for an up-front fee. Each refund check is for $42.95. The refunds are a product of two 2013 settlements, one with Emory L. “Jack” Holley IV, Lisa Miller, and six other corporate defendants they controlled and the other with four other defendants, which include Key Tech Solutions, LLC, d/b/a Key One Solutions, and 3Point14 LLC, d/b/a Elite Planning Group.

More recently, the FTC and ten state attorneys general decided to take action against a Florida-based cruise line company and other related companies which engaged in a massive robocall scheme that resulted in billions of robocalls. The complaint charges Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. with violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule by using robocalls to sell vacations with the cruise line. The complaint also alleges that other related companies violated the rule by either placing robocalls that generated leads for Caribbean Cruise Line or assisted and facilitated the illegal robocalls on behalf of Caribbean Cruise Line. Additionally, defendant companies owned by Fred Accuardi helped fund the robocallers by sharing fees generated by accessing caller ID names.

Of the defendants charged, Caribbean Cruise Line; Linked Service Solutions and its owners, Scott Broomfield and Jason Birkett; Economic Strategy LLC, and its owner, Jacob deJongh; and Steve Hamilton have agreed to settle the charges against them with the FTC. The proposed settlements bars Caribbean Cruise Line and the other defendants from engaging in abusive telemarketing practices, which includes calling consumers on the Do-Not-Call Registry, calling anyone that has previously said they didn’t want to be contacted again, failing to transmit accurate caller ID information, and placing illegal robocalls. Caribbean Cruise Line is also required to continuously monitor its lead generators and Hamilton is required to terminate any of his employees placing phone calls that would violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In addition, the settlements also impose civil penalties against the defendants. Caribbean Cruise Line was assessed a$7.73 million fine, which will be partially suspended after Caribbean Cruise Line pays $500,000. The other defendants were assessed lesser fines, which were also partially suspended so long as the defendants paid a lesser amount. Litigation continues against Fred Accuardi and the five companies charged with assisting and facilitating the illegal robocalls.

Finally, the FTC has announced two contests to find the best solution to combat illegal robocalls. As part of the first contest, entitled Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back, the FTC is calling upon contestants to create a technical solution for consumers that will 1) identify unwanted robocalls received on landlines or mobile hones and 2) block those unwanted calls to a honeypot. The contest has two phases, the first, a qualifying phase, which runs through June 2015, and the final phase, that concludes at DEF CON 23 in August 2015. Top prize is $25,000. The second contest, DetectaRobo, will be held during the National Day of Civic Hacking in June 2015. The FTC’s contests give the consumers a chance to get back at annoying robocalls, while the FTC’s complaints and settlements allow the FTC to take out their own frustrations on the illegal robocallers.