In an active week of FTC announcements, the agency on March 26, 2019, announced four major settlements with entities that were responsible for billions of illegal robocalls made to consumers nationwide. The entities targeted by the agency initiated illegal robocalls across a number of industries – they pitched auto warranties, debt-relief services, home security systems, fake charities, and Google search results services. These settlements resolved FTC allegations that the defendants had violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule.
In Veterans of America, the FTC’s complaint against Travis Deloy Peterson alleged that he “created and used a series of corporate entities and fictitious business names that sound like veterans’ charities to operate a telemarketing scheme that used robocalls to trick generous Americans into giving their vehicles or other valuable property to him” since at least 2012. The settlement includes a monetary judgment of $541,032.10 and would permanently ban defendant Peterson or his employees or contractors from soliciting charitable contributions, making misrepresentation in advertising or promoting any good or service, initiating robocalls, and engaging in deceptive and abusive telemarketing.
In Higher Goals Marketing LLC, the FTC alleged that seven defendants “engaged in a telemarketing scheme that defrauded financially distressed consumers by selling them bogus credit-card interest-rate-reduction services.” The settlement order includes a $3.15 million monetary judgment against all defendants jointly and permanently bans the defendants from participating, consulting, brokering, planning, investing, or advertising in telemarketing or in selling a Debt-Relief Product or Service, as well as from making any misrepresentations or deceptive omissions when promoting or offering for sale any product, service, plan, or program.
In Pointbreak Media, LLC, the FTC alleged that 18 defendants “operate[d] a telemarketing scam in which they target[ed] small business owners with false threats of removal from Google’s search engine and false promises of unique keywords in order to convince them to purchase a Google ‘claiming and verification’ service.” The settlements with eight of the defendants includes monetary judgments that total $12.72 million and permanently ban the defendants from initiating robocalls, calling cell phone numbers listed on the National Do-Not-Call Registry, making misrepresentations when promoting or offering for sale any good or service, and requiring them to make certain telemarketing disclosures.
In James Christiano, et al. (NetDotSolutions, Inc.), the FTC’s complaint alleged that seven defendants who “operate[d] ‘TelWeb,’ a computer-based telephone dialing platform that can be used to blast out a large volume of telephone calls – especially robocalls – in a short time,” and who ignored the requirement to scrub the receiving numbers against the National Do-Not-Call Registry. The settlement order included a monetary judgment of $1.35 million on the defendants and permanently bans them from engaging in telemarketing involving an automatic dialer.
The FTC posted an alert on its blog to small businesses and other legitimate businesses shortly after these settlement announcements. This alert underscored the need for small businesses to “get wise to common forms of fraud” and to take steps to avoid being targeted. The alert also cautioned businesses to always “investigate before you contribute and before you lend your services to companies claiming to be charities.”
The FTC and the FCC continue complementary efforts to combat illegal robocalls. In February 2019, the FCC’s first Robocall Report identified that among the estimated 61 billion phone calls placed during 2018 approximately 26.3 billion were robocalls. While anti-robocall sentiments are popular among regulators who receive numerous consumer complaints, legitimate businesses are confronted with increasing difficulties in attempting to reach their customers. In the meantime, the FTC’s actions underscore its efforts to deal with false and deceptive calling practices using the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.