The US communications regulator on Tuesday proposed a $ 225 million fine, the largest ever, against two health insurance telemarketers for spamming people with 1 billion robocalls using fake phone numbers.
The Federal Communications Commission said John Spiller and Jakob Mears called through two companies. State Attorneys General for Arkansas, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas have also sued the two men and their companies, Rising Eagle and JSquared Telecom, in federal court in Texas, where both men live, for violating federal law applicable to telemarketing, telephone consumer protection law.
The FCC said the robocalls offered plans from major insurers such as Aetna and UnitedHealth with an automated message. However, when consumers pressed a button for more information, they were directed to a call center that sold subscriptions that were not affiliated with those companies. The FCC said the attorney general of Missouri sued Rising Eagle’s largest client, Health Advisors of America, last year for telemarketing violations.
More than four months in early 2019, the FCC said, these telemarketers spoofed the number that their calls display in caller ID with the intention of misleading consumers; deliberately called people on the Do Not Call list; and called people’s cell phones without getting permission first.
Not only consumers were bothered. The telemarketers falsified their phone calls to make them look like they were from other companies, who then got angry phone calls and were mentioned in consumer lawsuits. The FCC did not name these companies, but said it received so many phone calls that the telephone network became “unusable.”
The fine is not a final decision. Spiller and Mears are given the opportunity to respond.
When robocalls became an urgent problem for consumers, both as an annoyance and as a means of fraud, the FCC prompted airlines to do more to stop them. A new law reinforces enforcement and requires the phone industry not to charge for call blocking tools and establish a system designed to remove “forged” calls made with false numbers.
Spiller declined to comment over the phone on JSquared’s number. He declined to provide contact information for Mears, saying neither would speak before speaking to a lawyer.
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