FTC goes to court to unravel robocalling net

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Do you have one of those massive white boards that takes up the entire wall of your conference room? You may need it to follow the machinations that multiple defendants allegedly engaged in so they could bombard consumers with robocalls by the billions. (Yes, that’s with a “b.”) The FTC has gone to court to put a stop to their illegal activities.

Filed in federal court in California, the FTC lawsuit alleges that defendant James Christiano and companies he controls operate TelWeb, a dialing platform with the capacity to blast people with a staggering number of robocalls. In fact, calls made with TelWeb have been so pervasive that they’ve been an issue in no fewer than eight previous FTC law enforcement actions. Take out a marker to draw some connectors on your white board because several of the names mentioned in the FTC complaint have cropped up before. For example, according to the lawsuit, Christiano is a long-time business associate of Aaron Michael Jones. That name should ring a bell with FTC watchers because Jones is a recidivist robocaller who was banned from the industry as part of a $2.7 million default judgment in 2017 and has been sued again in 2018 for deceptive practices related to robocalls targeting small business owners.

The FTC alleges that a Christiano-controlled company, NetDotSolutions, licensed software to Jones – which he resold to his clients – that allowed them to place robocalls pitching everything from home security systems to car warranties to purported debt relief services. According to the complaint, most (if not all) telemarketing calls made using Christiano’s TelWeb platform flowed through Jones and his business partners as resellers. One of those business partners is a guy named Andrew Salisbury, named in this action as a defendant. Then there’s TeraMESH Networks, a company the FTC says leased computer server rack space to Jones that enabled him to host, maintain, and update the TelWeb software.

In addition to his role in Jones’s robocalling ring, the FTC says defendant Salisbury is president and part owner of World Connection, a call center outfit that enters the picture when consumers “press 1” in response to a robocall. The complaint alleges that millions of calls that were transferred to World Connection after a consumer pressed 1 used “neighbor spoofing” – an illegal technique that falsifies the caller ID number to make it look like the call is coming from the consumer’s area. According to the FTC, to facilitate the operation, World Connection and its clients often turned to a fellow named Justin Ramsey. Time to draw another connection because Ramsey – another recidivist robocaller – settled a lawsuit with the FTC in 2017 and is named as a defendant in an action filed in 2018. Who is Ramsey’s co-defendant in that pending case? Aaron Michael Jones.

Flow charts and corporate structures aside, the FTC says the upshot was that consumers – many of whom are on the National Do Not Call Registry – have been targeted with more than a billion illegal robocalls each year. The complaint charges Christiano, NetDotSolutions, and TeraMESH with assisting and facilitating: 1) illegal robocalls, 2) calls to number on the Do Not Call Registry, 3) calls with spoofed caller ID numbers, and 4) abandoned calls that occurred when the TelWeb system hung up on consumers who answered.

Keep those markers out because there’s more for the white board. The lawsuit also charges that Salisbury and three companies related to World Connection initiated or caused the initiation of illegal robocalls, calls to numbers on the DNC Registry, and calls with spoofed caller IDs. The FTC is seeking a court order to stop the defendants’ illegal conduct and impose civil penalties.

The case was just filed, but it’s a good reminder that the Telemarketing Sale Rule prohibits pretty much all commercial robocalls unless consumers have given their express written consent to get those calls.

Comments

Thank you. This is a relief as I am a small business owner whom has had this practice of robocalling occur to me and some how they have ascertained my wife's number as well and have continuously harassed us. Thank you!!

I am proud to be Lesley's brother and thank her for the great work she has performed looking out for the interests of the American public over the years.

Thank you, Bob, for your kind words, which I’ll convey to the attorneys who filed this case. And thank you, too, for demonstrating – perhaps unintentionally – how easy it is to clearly disclose that a comment is from a person who has what we call a “material connection.”  :-)

Amen, but one person or one company/agency can only do so much.

Lesley is one of our agency's treasures -- we love having her as our colleague!

With at least twelve calls in the past 48hours and not less than 5 today through 2:00PM - all of which had no one no line just blank =- this must be from robo callers. My number is not listed, not available and is on the Federal do Not Call List. Just had another call while doing this comment.

A Court order didn’t seem to have much impact before. This time huge fines and multi-year jail sentences are more appropriate. Robocall equipment should be treated like gun silencers with federal registration required, and a substantial licensing fee even for legitamiite users. By the way, just got another robocall from Rachel at Cardholder Services. And yesterday from a medical brace supplier. It has been a slow week so far. Ususllyngatbabout 6 illegal calls a day.

I will believe it when I see results. These offenders are based out of the country and once caught simply create a new company and start over.

It would appear the only thing these guys would understand is jail time and a fine, a huge one.Because it appears they do not have to follow the laws of the land after reprimands, judgement, etc. If by some miracle they go to jail don't let them near a computer or a phone.

I consistently get calls from robocalls trying to get me health insurance (I'm a senior and a disabled Vet), google listing calls have slowed down, captial money loans, and others. I used to press 2 or type STOP but they still continued. I now wait to be connected and tell the "friendly" person to remove me, put me on their DO NOT CALL LIST and I will start a class acton lawsuit if they continue to call. Every single day I get three or four of these calls. I own a small business and it is annoying. Sometimes I answer the phone and don't say a word waiting for the person on the other end to speak. The phone just usually hangs up. Will be glad, the CREATOR willing, when all of this stops.

I'll be glad as well.

I can only hope the FTC can do something to stop these calls. I'm hoping the communications companies will jump on board to help reign in this practice.

I receeived 26 robo calls last saturday beginning 830AM. No Robo blocker did little other than stop the call after one ring. So now they are hang up which are just as annoying . My Verizo service rep pretty much mocked me when i asked if their company provided any protection against his and compared it to junk mail, that they have no way of inteiening. I haveerased all the calls but whenn they start up again, plan to take a picture of my caller ID log and send to your agency. Whyshould I have to have my phone disconnected because these people are allowed to harass me and others? No one wants these calls!

I don't understand why consumers continue to receive (and complain about) unwanted calls when blocking options are available. Take advantage of these services and stop expecting the government to solve all of your first-world problems. Watch MSNBC one time, and you'll see there are way worse things to worry about than robocalls.

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