Robocallers find themselves in a sticky situation

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Appearing as Inspector Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood added a famous phrase to the lexicon. As a suspect pondered his next move, Callahan invited him to consider the consequences of his actions: “You’ve got to ask yourself this question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya?” The context is much different, of course, but a telephone honeypot, an investigative tool used in a law enforcement action filed by the FTC and the Florida Attorney General, suggests that robocallers might want to ask themselves a similar question.

The case against Orlando-based Life Management Services of Orange County, LLC and related defendants is part of a multi-agency crackdown on illegal robocalls. The story starts with a tangled web of corporations and individuals alleged to have initiated hundreds of thousands of robocalls offering consumers purported reductions in their credit card interest rates. Using generic names like “Bank Card Services” and “Credit Assistance Program,” they held themselves out as a “licensed enrollment center” for major credit cards that can offer big savings to cash-strapped consumers.

According to the complaint, when consumers pressed 1 for more information, telemarketers gained their confidence and then asked for upfront fees ranging from $500 to $5,000 to get the advertised reduction in their interest rates. Sometimes the defendants made a rudimentary attempt to contact the person’s credit card company, but consumers say they almost never got the promised rates or savings.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants didn’t stop there. Once they had people on the hook, they followed up with calls offering bogus credit card debt elimination services. And this pitch was a real whopper.

Telemarketers told consumers that credit card companies who charged excessive interest rates had paid into a government “fund” earmarked to help people pay off their credit card debts. For an upfront fee of between $2,500 and $20,000, the telemarketers said they could help consumers tap into that cash to eliminate their debt. Except for one problem: No such fund exists. Factor in late fees, higher interest rates, and dinged-up credit scores, and the complaint alleges that consumers found themselves even deeper in debt.

The lawsuit charges the defendants with a host of violations, including the false interest rate reduction claims and bogus debt elimination promises – not to mention the robocalls and upfront fees, both of which violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule. A federal judge in Orlando granted a temporary restraining order, pending an upcoming hearing.

What about that investigative tool law enforcers are using in the fight against illegal robocalls? We usually keep mum about methods, but we’ve made an exception this time. As explained in a declaration filed in the Life Management Services case, the FTC used a telephone honeypot – a bank of phone lines designed to attract robocalls. Posing as consumers, FTC investigators can interact with callers in real time to make undercover purchases and identify who’s placing illegal robocalls. The FTC used the honeypot to collect evidence in this case, as well as in other recent actions involving robocalls that pitched medical alert devices and vacation packages.

The Life Management Services case and additional actions by the Department of Justice, FCC, state AGs, and enforcement authorities in Canada and the UK are part of an international crackdown on illegal robocalling. It comes just as the FTC and 11 regulatory organizations around the world have signed a memorandum of understanding to share information and intelligence in the global fight against unsolicited messages and calls. The signers are all members of the London Action Plan, a network of public agencies and private sector representatives committed to promoting cooperation in the battle against spam, unsolicited calls, and related problems like online fraud and deception, phishing, and the dissemination of viruses.

Between increased global cooperation and the use of technology, the tables are finally turning on robocallers. People who initiate illegal calls should consider this: Is the person on the other end of the line a consumer responding to your pitch? Or could it be an undercover investigator using a honeypot to collect information about companies placing illegal calls? In the words of Inspector Callahan, “You’ve got to ask yourself this question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya?”

 

Comments

'Tables turning on robocallers', I'll believe when I see it.

I hope you catch these scammers and fraudsters .I have gotten over 74 robo calls that I have had to put on a block list on my phone.From various types of robo calls and scammer,fraudster calls.

Ive received 95 calls this week from Monday-Thursday starting at 8am to 9pm. They leave no message. I've had to place Do Not Disturb on my iPhone to block all calls except my favorites on my contact list that I filtered out. I feel like I'm being held hostage with my phone. We pay $200 a month to AT&T for our wireless account and I can't even unblock my whole contact list which im concerned because I'm waiting for important calls from my specialist doctors to schedule spots and receive results for my serious illness but not sure what #'s they'll be calling in with so unable to add to favorites. This is not just harrasment. This is stalking. When they start calling at 8am and I don't answer, they call back every 5 minutes nonstop for 1/2 hr then they start back up after lunchtime and again at end of day. Pretty sad when I can't use my phone the way it's intended. These scammers, telemarketers are bullying me and I'm seriously feeling a nervous breakdown coming on over this. Can't call them back because no one answers. BIG BULLIES!! GET A REAL JOB !

I agree. I get way too many.
Often a recording that once I answer, the call drops. Even though I add the number to "reject call" on my Android phone carrier is Mobile...somehow...the calls keep coming. I've also registered my number on "do not call" lists.
Very frustrating

I get these calls all the time. They switch numbers and call right back. They call all day every day and the don't stop.

This is nerve racking when these ROBO Calls comes and from the same number all the time. Then they change numbers and out of the area numbers. No matter how many times you blocked call they seem to be getting through. Reporting to do not call list. Finding out FTC has many, many, many, complaints has been filed and it begin to be overwhelming and aggravating and upsetting. Keeping up with them a hassle for FTC. They will leave one area and move to another with a different number. Thanks for the FTC filing complaints with US Attorney Office for help in this matter. I will follow these ROBO CALLS being taken down and prosecuted.

It is too bad that the FTC isn't inclined to go after religious organizations with this kind of zeal. Many of the ones who preach on dozens of channels on cable TV seem to have forgotten the Commandment: Thou shalt not steal. For people who's parents are aging -- and there are a lot of us Baby Boomers, this is perhaps the largest threat we and our parents face. One of these so called "Pastors", to whom my parents and thousands of others have donated funds, has 66 shows a week in the U.S. alone, where he asks for money. According to an investigative report by a large metropolitan newspaper, he collected $30 million for an orphanage in Mexico. The investigator went to the address in Mexico and found an abandoned house with a handwritten sign claiming it was the orphanage. One of the cable and broadcast networks to whom my parents and thousands of others have donated, broadcasts these so called "sermons" 24/7. They have ordained their employees, including chauffeurs, and then provided them with multi-million dollar homes (that they call "parsonages"), with the donated money they collect. These religious organizations, which the FTC is reluctant to investigate and prosecute, pose a far greater threat to the elderly (a rapidly growing segment of our population) than does these robocall organizations.

I understand your concern for the elderly who are being scammed by so-called religious organizations and indeed scammers should be investigated and prosecuted. However to say religious scammers: "pose a far greater threat to the elderly (a rapidly growing segment of our population) than does these robocall organizations," is hyperbole or at least you imply that your threat is more important than other people's threats. We don't need to compete for whose violation is worse. They are all criminal assaults that deserve prosecution.

I also receive these calls mostly on my cell phone number. Another robocall recently received has to do with home security systems. Once received on cell phone, I go into to call settings and block number yet calls keep coming from numerous different states and some even display "unknown number". The home security calls are also coming to my office number directly. Becoming more then an annoyance! Do we have any recourse? Where do we report these calls and what additional information would the FTC need to track these people down?

Keep up the good work

I'm curious as to what law exists concerning the use of this equipment. Auto dial software, it's use and software that can manipulate random phone numbers that appear on one's caller ID. Numbers that are not the actual number that the call originates from; etc. There are apps available to the public concerning this that began with cell phone usage. The auto dial equipment is used quite often in law enforcement such as an Amber alert. It is also used for political parties at times of election. So, that software can prove to be a positive and useful public tool. However, software that scrambles numbers that appear on your caller ID or displays completely different that actual number; so that when you call the number back it may state "not in service" or similar, I don't understand it's useful or practical application. It is software that seems to have only one purpose, and it prays upon the public. Commercial use of this type software should be banned. Full disclosure. Maybe this exists in law where marketing and/or collections are concerned. If not, I would imagine that this should be well defined and addressed within the law.

We have been actifve in Florida since 1989 as a project of the Fla. Attorney Generals office, and we are fighting back, in educating our seniors against being victims of scams and fraud, we do recoup over 1,000,000 dollars a year for our seniors, but unfortunatlely we don't have the funds to advertise that we are here, and we do not charge for our service.

Why can't there be a honeypot number that, once "Linda, with Home Security Protection Services" or whomever calls, you just answer the first question to keep them on the line, then forward the call to the honeypot to follow through to a real company & prosecution? I'm not answering any calls that don't leave messages, but now I'm excluded from election polls because they don't leave messages either.

Its 2019 and the calls have not stopped, what happened!

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