It’s not often that something can be stated with absolute certainty, but here goes: People hate illegal robocalls. No one knows that more than the FTC, which is why we’ve brought 167 cases to date and we won’t stop until companies that violate the FTC Act and the Telemarking Sales Rule hang up once and for all. In the latest battle against these illegal and injurious intrusions, the FTC and over 100 federal and state partners have announced Operation Stop Scam Calls, a nationwide crackdown involving over 180 actions against operations responsible for billions of illegal calls.
What’s different about this effort? In addition to the telemarketers and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers that facilitate illegal calls, Operation Stop Scam Calls targets another segment of the robocall ecosystem: “lead generation consent farms.” The message should be evident. Companies and individuals that till the soil for illegal telemarketing and then reap financial rewards can expect a bumper crop of law enforcement.
You don’t need much agricultural expertise to know that every weed is supported by an extensive underground root structure. You can yank ‘em out from now until the first frost, but if you don’t attack the roots, they proliferate. Making the analogy to telemarketing, the illegal robocall racket depends on the assistance of shadowy operators who are complicit with the illicit. That’s where “consent farms” come in. The typical modus operandi is to lure people to a website with the promise a benefit (perhaps a prize, a gift card, or a job lead), harvest their personal information, gin up phony “consent” to get robocalls and other solicitations, and then sell those leads to robocallers. Consumers don’t get the benefit – the enticements often were phony from the get-go – but they do get barraged with unwanted robocalls.
In a related vein, some VoIP service providers open the gate for overseas telemarketers to access the phone lines of U.S. consumers. By providing that point of entry, those VoIP companies allow robocallers to use their services to transmit hundreds of millions of illegal robocalls – conduct that violates the Telemarketing Sales Rule, as multiple FTC law enforcement actions have established.
In addition to State Attorneys General and other state partners, federal law enforcers involved in the sweep include the Department of Justice, FCC, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
As part of Operation Stop Scam Calls, the FTC announced five new cases against companies and individuals, some of whom allegedly did the groundwork for illegal robocallers.
- Fluent, LLC. The complaint alleges New York City-based Fluent and multiple affiliates acted as a consent farm lead generator by using deceptive dark patterns to trick people into providing personal information and giving their so-called “consent” for more solicitations. According to the FTC, Fluent sold more than 620 million telemarketing leads to other companies and, in the process, violated the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the CAN-SPAM Act. To settle the case, Fluent will pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and must destroy all previously collected consumer information. What’s more, the defendants are permanently banned from engaging in, assisting, or facilitating robocalls.
- Viceroy Media Solutions, LLC. California-based Viceroy Media Solutions and owners Sunil Kanda and Quynh Tran allegedly lured consumers to quick-jobs.com and localjobindex.com with the promise of local employment listings. But the complaint charges that the sites really were just consent farms. Once consumers visited, the defendants collected their personal data, manufactured phony “consent” to get robocalls, and then sold the leads to telemarketers. In their role as lead generators, the defendants allegedly assisted and facilitated millions of illegal calls. The proposed order imposes a $913,636 civil penalty, which will be partially suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay. The defendants are also banned for life from helping others place robocalls.
- Yodel Technologies, LLC. The FTC says Florida-based Yodel Technologies and Robert Pulsipher illegally placed more than 500 million calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, pitching car insurance, cruises, medical devices, auto warranties, and supposed help with Social Security benefits. According to the complaint, Yodel used soundboard technology, which allows call center agents to play prerecorded audio clips in response consumer statements or questions, making them sound more authentic than typical robocalls. Yodel allegedly initiated more than 1.4 billion calls to U.S. consumers, many of which were to numbers obtained from lead generation websites, including more than 14 million calls to leads obtained from Viceroy Media, another Operation Stop Spam Calls defendant. The proposed order bans Yodel and Pulsipher from participating in telemarketing, either directly or through an intermediary. It also imposes a $1 million civil penalty, which will be partially suspended after they pay $400,000.
- Solar Xchange LLC. The FTC and the State of Arizona charged New Jersey-based Solar Xchange and owner Mark Getts with violating federal and state laws by making unlawful telemarketing calls on behalf of solar panel company Vision Solar LLC. According to the complaint, the defendants placed tens of millions of calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. Furthermore, Vision Solar’s telemarketers allegedly falsely claimed to be affiliated with a utility company or government agency and misrepresented how much consumers could save on their energy bills. The proposed settlement with Solar Xchange and Getts imposes a partially suspended civil penalty of $13.8 million. The action against defendant Vision Solar is ongoing.
- Hello Hello Miami, LLC. The name of the company may sound like a 70s sitcom, but the FTC says what Florida-based Hello Hello Miami and officer Luis E. Leon Amaris are up to is no laughing matter. According to the complaint, the defendants operate a “point of entry” VoIP service provider for foreign calls into the United States. In that capacity, they allegedly have assisted and facilitated the transmission of more than 37 million illegal robocalls placed by more than 11 of their foreign telemarketing clients. Many of those illegal calls used pre-recorded messages that impersonated Amazon. The case is pending in a Florida federal court.
Operation Stop Spam Calls sends clear-cut messages both the industry members and to consumers.
No one who assists and facilitates illegal robocalls is beyond the reach of the Telemarketing Sales Rule. If you’re part of the telemarketing ecosystem and you engage in illegal activity – or lend a hand to others who violate the law – the Telemarketing Sales Rule covers your conduct. Consent farm lead generators and VoIP service providers, we’re talking to you. We’re also talking to other businesses and individuals who grease the wheels for those who place the calls and to the companies that use their services.
You can’t contract out consent. The Telemarketing Sales Rule requires that robocallers themselves must get consent directly from the person they’re calling. You can’t just take the word of a vendor. What’s more, it has to be “express informed consent” – not something manufactured, fabricated, or obtained through trickery or deceit. That’s why the illegal operations of consent farms must be plowed under immediately.
VoIP providers are on notice that giving robocallers access to U.S. customers violates the law. Previous FTC law enforcement actions against Stratics Networks and X-Cast Labs establish that it’s illegal for VoIP providers to funnel illegal robocalls through their networks. In addition, the FTC’s ongoing Project Point of No Entry identifies point of entry VoIP service providers that are routing illegal call traffic, demands they stop, and monitors them with an eye toward bringing law enforcement action against companies that just don’t seem to get the message. The initiative includes industry partners, the FCC, and state AGs.
Consumers, state and federal law enforcers hear you. You’re sick and tired of annoying and intrusive robocalls and you’re ticked off by the financial injury they inflict on family and friends. We share your frustration and we’re committed to using every law enforcement tool at our disposal to shut them down. But we have some requests of you, too: 1) Please protect yourself by hanging up on illegal robocalls; 2) If you get a robocall, report it to the FTC; and 3) Share educational resources available in English and Spanish with family and friends. It could be your action that helps shut down a law violator or protects someone you know from a major financial loss.
The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.
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Thank you so much for doing this! I had noticed the number of robo calls we got had diminished greatly but hadn’t realized the FTC had made it happen. It makes such a difference! We were ready to ditch our home phone in order to not get all those awful calls.
I can’t thank you enough! This has made a huge difference in our daily lives.